Worth a read, particularly the academic analysis.

This article is from the January 24 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition.

Jen Rosenberg

EDUCATION

AUSTRALIA’S students are falling against international benchmarks and there is a growing gap between the top students and bottom students, the federal Education Minister, Peter Garrett, warned yesterday.

The results of the 2011 National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), published yesterday , reveal that more than 93 per cent of students are achieving at or above the minimum standard in reading, writing and numeracy, but that the best students were not doing as well as in previous years.

The School Education Minister , Peter Garrett, said that despite having one of the best education systems in the world, Australia lagged behind other countries – in particular in Asia. ‘‘ This is not acceptable in a country as wealthy and wellresourced as Australia.’’

Mr Garrett said the results were a concern and blamed previous governments for not investing sufficiently in schools. He said the Gillard government was spending heavily to address the issues, mainly through the National Partnerships programs.

‘‘ That overall trend which has been under way for some time now is a matter of concern. I believe that all the substantial reforms that we’ve either introduced or are introducing are going to assist with that.’’

Some of that investment includes $211 million for reward funding for states to meet targets , $16 billion worth of infrastructure through the Building the Education Revolution (BER) stimulus package, $55 million in the National Partnership program for teachers and principals , and $2.5 billion in partnership programs aimed specifically at students from poor backgrounds.

The opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, said the government had failed to increase results in spite of ‘‘ spending billions of dollars on school halls and computers in schools’’ .

The widening gap between students at the top and the bottom bands could be explained by insufficient resources for refugee and migrant students, said Associate Professor Carol Reid, associate head of the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney.

Sending the best students to selective schools exacerbated the problem, she said. ‘‘ They’ve had this policy of school choice … and it’s really residualised comprehensive high schools and local primary schools.

‘‘ If there’s not the investment in all schools, particularly in schools where there is less social and cultural capital, this is where you’re seeing the really wide disparities between the top and the bottom end.’’

The comparison with international results is a reference to the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results published last year, showing standards in Australian education had slipped. Australia was one of only five countries that recorded a drop in reading and maths in the most recent PISA survey.

PISA tests 15-year-old students , whereas NAPLAN is an assessment for students of years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The results cannot be easily compared, but the president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Bob Lipscombe, said the two may be linked.

‘‘ The decline in Australian performance has actually coincided with mass standardised testing in Australia. Overseas experience has shown what happens when countries embrace mass standardised testing the way Australia has, and that it may have contributed towards this decline.’’

Mr Lipscombe said that ‘‘ despite the best will in the world teachers are being judged based on test results’’ .

Other NAPLAN results show NSW performing well, but outscored by Victoria and the ACT in several areas. Participation rates were high across the board but lowest in areas with indigenous populations. Students from non-English speaking backgrounds did almost as well as those from English-speaking backgrounds.

with Kim Arlington

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