Monthly Archives: December 2012

NAPLAN Results 2012

Peter Garrett, I think it is time you burned some midnight oil and read the research on the effects of high stakes testing.

The Treehorn Express

The Treehorn Express

Opinion soaked in knowledge & experience.


Treehorn is the hero of an easy-to-read, sad children’s book: “The Shrinking of Treehorn” by Florence Heidi Parry. It clearly illustrates the disregard that adults demonstrate towards children at school. Treehorn’s principal and his teacher, even his parents give him ‘short shift’. Are C21 parents any more caring? Do they really care that high-stakes school testing can cause stress,vomiting, worry and sleeplessness to their children; and does nothing of any use for learning habits?



Click here.

‘Care for Kids’



A Prismatic Disaster

“The final 2012 NAPLAN National Report, which was released yesterday, shows most of the nation has flat-lined on literacy and numeracy tests, while going backwards in Numeracy for Years 3 and 7.” [Courier Mail, 19/12/2012]

The 344 page report is available on line. [Start searching at ] The…

View original post 750 more words

1 Comment

Filed under Thinking

Spare me the simple answers, simple minds.

The root of this is more than gun control. It lies within our society and like all societal problems its causes will be complex and subtle. The problem then is that it will need politicians capable of complex and subtle thought to find ways to solve it and I’m not sure how optimistic I am about that.

When I first moved to the US and became a principal I was astounded to discover that we were required to have regular lock down drills to prepare for just this kind of situation. I had never come across this. All we had in Australia were bush fire drills because the schools I worked in were all in forested areas and south eastern australia is one of the most wildfire prone areas in the world. We feared fire. We didn’t think we needed to fear automatic weapons.

In Australia we had an appalling massacre in 1996. No nation is immune.The government’s response was fast and firm. A massive buy back of automatic weapons was funded by a small tax levy on everyone but low income earners. This was followed immediately by the implementation of very strict gun laws. In spite of claims to the contrary by the NRA, gun violence declined rapidly after those moves.

Additionally there was a community, and to a very large extent, a media decision to never mention the name of the perpetrator. Efforts were made to ensure there was no spotlight on him, only on the victims.

About three weeks after I took up my first role in the US as an assistant principal I was faced with the 9/11 repercussions for my school in a highly militarized part of Virginia. I was given the tasks of working with teachers and parents, helping them to understand how best to talk with their children. I did my best, but there is nothing can prepare an administrator or a teacher for something like this. We all rely on our gut instincts as much as our professional preparation. I ,just did my best.

This tragedy has left me lost for words – not a frequent occurrence. I heard someone today advocating that teachers and principals should all have guns. That if the principal at Sandy Hook had been able to lay her hand on a fire arms she could have stopped the gunman. Really? The gunman’s mother had five weapons. She is now dead, shot with her own gun.

In China, on the same day, a man ran amok in a school with a knife and injured 22 children. That is a tragedy too. But he didn’t have a gun and for that we should be thankful, because if he had, those children would now be dead. Don’t tell me it isn’t the gun that kills.

I was sitting in a diner in a quiet, residential area of Virginia about three weeks ago. It was crowded with office workers and locals buying some barbecue and taking a break from the day’s work. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I watched a group of three young men walk in and take their seats. They were all in their very early twenties. What horrified me was the sight of a handgun on the hip of one of these young men. Now I know that the frontal cortex of young men, the area of executive function that controls impulsive behavior and judgment, isn’t fully developed as a rule until the mid twenties. And here he was in a crowded diner with a firearm. Why did he think he needed it?

How many times in my life have I heard someone say in a moment of rage, “If I had a gun I’d shoot the b#*^%£d”? Thank god they are so hard to come by where I now live.


Filed under Thinking


When I was an elementary school principal in Virginia we would have a wonderful lunch every months. Each school nominated a girl and boy Citizen of the Month and the School Board would host a sit down lunch at a local hotel. Each child would have an opportunity to stand up, give their name and describe their aspirations. Many, but not all, of these schools served high poverty communities.

What disturbed me most was the that the vast majority of boys would say their goal in life was to be a football or basket ball player. It seemed these were the only role models they knew, the only adult men they looked up to, the ones they most wanted to emulate.

I was, therefore, deeply impressed when I heard a TED talk by the educational scientist Sugata Mitra.

Sit back and be amazed for seventeen minutes as you watch it here:

One of the many things that struck me most deeply was his comment towards the end. He described the ten year old boy who wanted to be a footballer. After watching ten TED videos – he wanted to be Leonardo da Vinci.

This video as well as the one about Caine’s Arcade in my earlier blog both make me question everything we are doing in schools.

I have asked the question before about standardized testing.

Are we stopping our children from learning?

Perhaps the question has even broader application.


Leave a comment

Filed under Teacher education, Testing, Thinking

The Treehorn Express

The Treehorn Express

Opinion soaked in knowledge & experience.


Treehorn is the hero of an easy-to-read, sad children’s book: “The Shrinking of Treehorn” by Florence Heidi Parry. It clearly illustrates the disregard that adults demonstrate towards children at school. Even Treehorn’s principal and his teacher give him ‘short shift’. The message is clear when applied to children’s worries about fear-based testing regimes. We don’t give two hoots about the welfare and learning climate of our 5 to 12 year-olds. They can shrink, vomit, stress-out, cry, lose sleep all they like at test time….as long as they score well for the sake of politician-speak.



‘Care for Kids’


Learning From Year 4

Australia’s Year 4 children have demonstrated, in a very telling way, that the clownish tyranny of NAPLAN testing destroys the natural love for learning almost completely. The results of a previously unknown testing device[PIRLS]…

View original post 563 more words

1 Comment

Filed under Thinking

“PISA:It’s Poverty Not Stupid” – maybe.

I have just finished reading Mel Riddile’s analysis of the 2009  PISA results published in the NASSP blog “The Principal Difference’ in 2010.

His argument basically is that if we divide the USA population of tested students according to levels of poverty and then compare them with other countries with similar levels, we find we are not doing too badly. He argues that US schools with less than a 25% poverty rate score a creditable PISA score of 551 for the less than 10% population and 527 for the 10% – 24.9% population) – better than any of the other countries with similar (overall) poverty numbers. I’m no statistician, but it seems to me that comparing a select group from the USA (only those schools with less than 25% poverty rate) with an entire country with a poverty rate of less than 25% is not comparing like populations. He concludes that the problem with the US reading scores is basically caused by poverty.

This misses the point – that growing levels of poverty may well be the result of problems with education. Classic chicken and egg stuff. The success story of Finland began forty years ago when poverty levels were far different from what they are today. The restructuring of the education system went hand in hand with a growing social equity.

We know this to be true – education is the path out of poverty. It follows that famine, pestilence and natural disasters aside, a growing level of poverty suggests a failure of education.

An extensive analysis of results in the light of social equity can be found in the report “PISA 2009 Results:  Overcoming  Social Background Equity in Learning Opportunities  and Outcomes (Volume 2).

OECD analysis of their test results leads the report to state:

“GDP per capita influences educational success, but this only explains 6% of the differences in average student performance. the other 94% reflect the potential for public policy to make a difference”.

You might protest that growing income inequality in the USA makes a measure such as GDP per capita an unfair yard stick, and in a sense you might be right. But why is there such income disparity? Because a growing segment of the population does not have the educational opportunities to access higher incomes through better paying jobs. Once again poverty and schooling are inextricably linked.

My conclusion?

It’s not poverty. It’s certainly not ‘stupid’. It’s a complex interplay between schooling and poverty, an interplay in which schooling is letting down too many of our kids and leading to an increasing number of them facing futures of poverty.

Mel Riddile says “Instead of looking to low-poverty countries like Finland for direction, we should be looking to take what we already know about educating students in high-performing, high-poverty schools …”. I respectfully disagree – in part. Indeed we DO need to look at countries where a long term vision has created social equity in education where it once did not exist. We must look beyond our boundaries, to resist the “curse of riches” and learn from others.

And yes, we must stop labeling schools as failing. Instead we must recognize that it is the system that is failing and any remedy will be systemic, not school by school. Finland has developed a SYSTEM that ensures there will be no failing schools. We are trying to fix the problem by looking at one school at a time.

We need systemic change.





Filed under Teacher education, Testing, Thinking

PISA.PIRLS.NAPLAN. I’m going Crazy

Maybe it isn’t me going crazy at all. Maybe being out of step with a world bent on testing the life out of learning is the only sane way to be.

Check out this video. Sit back and watch for about 8 minutes.

Then tell me how you design a standardized, multiple choice test to assess these most fundamental learning skills – creative thinking, determination, persistence, observation, experimentation, planning, the ability to finish what you start – the list goes on and on.

Please! Do! Tell me how.

Because if we can’t test these skills and attitudes, if we value our educational practices and achievement on measures that ignore them, then what on earth are we measuring that has any deep meaning for what we doing with our kids?

Leave a comment

Filed under Teacher education, Testing, Thinking

Doing it by the numbers

I am very puzzled by the debate surrounding the release of the PIRLS Report and Australia’s poor performance in grade 4 reading. Two years ago the PISA Report showed Australia firmly in the top 10% of OECD nations, although we had declined since the previous round of testing. the USA performance was lack luster and well below that of Australia and New Zealand. Now, two years later, the positions have been reversed. The USA is respectable and Australia is appalling – according to this new set of numbers.

So what happened in two years? Did Aussie kids suddenly forget everything they knew two years earlier? I know that the PISA tests look at 15 year olds, but they were fourth graders before they became fifteen year olds.

Finland and the usual suspects among the Asian Tigers are still up the top. But what’s going on in the USA and Australia/NZ?

Can someone help me here?

Leave a comment

Filed under Teacher education, Testing, Thinking

A teacher? You can do so much better.

In San Francisco today, i overheard a conversation between two women on the train. One was discussing her daughter, who she described as studying environmental science, loving every minute of it and being very successful in her studies.

She then commented that her daughter had suggested teaching as a career.

“Teaching? You can do so much better than that” she had told her daughter.

Her mother’s friend added her perspective. “Why would she want to be a teacher when she could be a real scientist? Teaching is something she could always go into later, when she is older.”

I bristled when I heard the words “Teaching? She could do so much better.”

Therein lie our problems. Teaching is seen as a career for those who can’t do any better.

I refuse to mention F#*^%nd again so soon. The place where it is harder to be a teacher than to be a doctor.

Until we fix this perception of teachers we will never fix our educational system.

Fixing this problem is complex and it will take a very long time. When will someone have the courage to start?

1 Comment

Filed under Teacher education

Watch This!

She says nothing about test preparation, about covering the content, about scores. Instead she talks about the whole child, safety, choices, consequences. She talks about how she makes children feel safe enough to think about their lives and themselves.

1 Comment

Filed under Thinking

“Thank God that’s over!

From yesterday’s Huffington Post we learn that “Five states were to announce Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013.”

And so we will fix the problems with our schools by doing what hasn’t been working for even longer.

My greatest fear as an educator was always that kids would leave school thinking “Thank God that’s over!”

Looks like five states are even closer to that target.


Filed under Thinking