Principals warned off test boycott

Principals warned off test boycott. By Jewel Topsfield

PRINCIPALS have been warned not to encourage a boycott of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s national school testing program, which begins today.

The warning comes amid concerns that ”conscientious objectors” pulling their children out of NAPLAN tests could distort information made available to parents on the government’s My School website.

More than 1 million students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 across Australia will today start NAPLAN testing for numeracy and literacy.

Last month, a group of educators launched the ”Say no to NAPLAN” campaign to encourage parents to boycott the tests, which are now in their fifth year.

The group is publicising the previously little-known fact that the tests are not compulsory and parents have the right to withdraw their children on the grounds of philosophical objections or religious beliefs.

The NAPLAN 2012 Information for Parents brochure, for example, only mentions that students can be exempted from the tests if they have a significant intellectual disability or have recently arrived in Australia and come from a non-English-speaking background.

More than 100 academics from universities around Australia have signed a letter of support for the Say no to NAPLAN campaign, saying the tests have little merit and are being misused for political agendas.

”Pressure on teachers and children to perform well on NAPLAN tests is narrowing the curriculum and eroding time in classrooms for quality teaching and learning activities,” they say.

But Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority general manager Peter Adams said state and federal governments expected students to sit the tests.

“Parents do have the right to withdraw their children from the tests, but we emphasise that principals are not to actively encourage students not to participate,” he said.

”We would consider that quite inappropriate for obvious reasons.”

Mr Adams said NAPLAN participation rates were not declining, with the average Australian participation rate 95.9 per cent.

But Brian Caldwell, an educational research professorial fellow at Melbourne University, said participation rates were likely to fall as parents became more aware of concerns about the way NAPLAN data was used and the fact the tests were not compulsory. ”I would expect the number of withdrawals are likely to increase,” he said.

”This would reduce the validity of what is being reported on My School, which is solely dependent on getting high rates of participation.”

Professor Caldwell said lower test participation rates would limit the validity of comparisons between NAPLAN results achieved by schools and states.

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