This essay focuses on the recent introduction by the Australian Federal Government of standardised literacy testing in all states across Australia (that is, the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy, or NAPLAN), and explores the way this reform is mediating the work of English literacy educators in primary and secondary schools. We draw on data collected as part of a research project funded by the Australian Research Council, involving interviews with teachers about their experiences of implementing standardised testing. These interviews indicate that the introduction of standardised testing does not merely constitute an additional part of teachers” workloads, but that it is having a significant impact on their identity as language educators, their understanding of curriculum and pedagogy, and the relationships they seek to maintain with their students. By introducing the NAPLAN tests, the Australian Federal Government is going down the path of other neo-liberal governments around the world. No doubt the story we tell will be familiar to readers in other countries. Our aim, however, is more than simply to give yet another account of the tensions experienced by committed language and literacy teachers as they implement neoliberal policy mandates. Key questions for us include: Why is the Australian government persisting with such policies, even when they have had such dubious consequences (teaching to the test, dumbing down, and so on.) in other national settings? How might educators resist these reforms? What intellectual resources might enable us to articulate an alternative vision of language education to that imposed by neoliberal reforms? We present an account of conversations with a group of teachers in a primary school in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, not in order to make large claims about how the profession in Australia as a whole judges standards based reforms, but because their talk prompts reflection about the possibility of resisting such policy initiatives. Our impulse is largely a philosophical one – we are raising questions about how neoliberal reforms construct teachers and their students, what they presuppose about the nature of life and its potential, and how educators might dissent from the world view that is being imposed. And rather than simply investigating how teachers are grappling with standards-based reforms, as though it is yet again a matter of putting teachers under the spotlight, we also raise questions about the responsibility of academics and teacher educators to maintain a critical standpoint within the policy environment created by such changes.
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Field of Research
130204 English and Literacy Curriculum and Pedagogy (excl LOTE, ESL and TESOL)
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