Monday 30 May 2005 - Estimates Committee B (Wriedt) - Part 2

1.4 Educational Review – Literacy

Mr FINCH - I am curious about the table on page 63. The percentage of students achieving national benchmarks for year 5 literacy has declined. In 2002-03, the figure was 96.3. The targets for 2004-05 and 2005-06 have been reduced to 90. Why is there a reduction?

Ms WRIEDT - Those targets were set a number of years ago by Tasmania Together and we exceeded them, but they have not subsequently re-adjusted the targets. They have just begun a five-year review, so those targets were set five years ago.

Mr FINCH - Is that the figure of 90?

Ms WRIEDT - Yes. They are just beginning a review and obviously, given that we well and truly exceeded that target some time ago, we hope they will increase the target when the review is completed.

Mr FINCH - Are the figures for 2003-04 not available to give us some indication of where it is going?

Ms WRIEDT - No. It is a little confusing. It is hard for us to put it into the 2002-03 and 2003-04 format because the measurements are actually done on a calendar year basis. The national benchmark testing is done every year, so it is difficult to come up with a figure for a financial year. Most States and Territories do different tests, so there is no standardised national test for, say, year 5 numeracy. Tasmania does the Western Australian test - we changed to that a few years ago. I think the ACT does the Northern Territory test. Basically, about five different tests that are given to samples of students across the country and the results go into a very complicated and lengthy equating process. Because of the differences in the tests, they go through an equating process so that we can have a comparable figure and come up with national benchmark figures. All of that work is done by MCEETYA, which is the education ministers' ministerial council. All the information is owned, if you like, by MCEETYA until such time as all States and Territories are happy with the equating process and we are comparing apples with apples, as opposed to apples and pineapples, or mangos and pineapples as the secretary likes to say, being a former Queenslander. We cannot release that information until then. It always means there is a long delay. Generally one of the larger States will say it is not happy and there will be a delay for years.

Mr FINCH - Is there a variation between the States in the national requirements?

Ms WRIEDT - Yes. One of the things I have been trying to convince my ministerial colleagues in other States of, and I think we are reaching agreement, is that we should have a national test. Then we would not have these lengthy delays. It is quite ridiculous. The lengthy delays really water down the effectiveness of the information because by the time you get it the kids have well and truly moved on. You are then less effective in being able to respond to that data and put measures in place to remediate any shortcomings in results. I think there is now a general feeling among other States that we can have a common national test in each of those areas. Fingers crossed. We had some discussion about it at a MCEETYA meeting recently and there will be another meeting later in the year at which we will hopefully get closer to an agreement.

Mr FINCH - What is the current position with national assessment and reporting? Is that what you have just been talking about?

Ms WRIEDT - Yes, a common test.

CHAIR - I notice under educational review you talk about internal score reviews. In a year of change such as this, do we still have schools - I know it is on a rotational basis - who are expected to go through what I consider a heavy workload in doing a school review, with the involvement of parents and community?

Ms WRIEDT - Part of an announcement I made the week before last related to a slowing down of assessment and reporting against the Essential Learnings. Instead of having to report against four areas of Essential Learnings at the end of this year, schools only had to report against three. However, if they felt ready to report against the inquiry element, they could do so, otherwise they could leave that to next year. We have moved the timetable out in that respect. I also announced that the process you referred to, the school improvement review, would be given an additional year. A new cycle will begin in 2007. Schools that had, as part of the cycle, to go through the school improvement review this year to be ready for next year, have had the cycle delayed by a year. That will allow us to align schools in a cluster so that all schools in a cluster will be doing it in the same year. Otherwise you would end up with 10 schools in a cluster and three doing it in one year and three in the next, etcetera.

CHAIR - The paperwork talks about internal school reviews in partnership with district superintendents. I presume that is transposed to branch principals and the community, so we are talking about branches, cluster, principals and community.

Ms WRIEDT - Well picked up. Yes, it is. Apologies. We let that one go through. Heads will roll over that one!

CHAIR - I think districts are mentioned somewhere else, too.

Mr FINCH - This output provides statewide programs for the monitoring and measurement of student performance in levels of achievement in literacy and numeracy. I think I am right in saying that nationally we did not fare that well with literacy. Are our measurement standards a national standard?

Ms WRIEDT - Yes, a national test.

Mr FINCH - Is it correct that we did not compare all that well nationally?

Ms WRIEDT - The most recent nationally released data that we have to make a national comparison is the 2001 cohort. In year 3 reading we were actually first in the country. A bit of a myth has been perpetuated that we are at the bottom of the pack. In 1999, we were fourth, we were fifth in 2000; and in 2001, which is the most recent result, we were first. We are awaiting the release of the 2002 data to see where we sit nationally. It is imminent. We are waiting for the MCEETYA Chair, Katy Gallagher, the ACT minister, to sign off, and we expect that literally within days.

CHAIR - Is it usual that everything is three years behind? Grade 3 children are now in grade 6 and moving out of primary.

Ms WRIEDT - Yes, that is exactly what I was saying. It is ridiculous. Individually we know what our results are, but we do not have a national comparison.

Ms JACOB - Parents know how well their child goes in that year. It is just the national collaboration.

Ms WRIEDT - We know statewide where we sit and whether we have made an improvement from one year to the next, but until such time as the lengthy, convoluted, ridiculous equating process is gone through, we do not know where we sit in comparison with the rest of the country.

[5.45 p.m.]
Mr FINCH - My next question falls partly under this heading and partly under the previous one, but if I ask it quickly the Chair will not pull me up! Is our curriculum now a national curriculum?


Mr FINCH - Are we heading that way? Some time ago it was mentioned that education would be common throughout the nation, for portability and movement and all that sort of thing..

Ms WRIEDT - I think Brendan Nelson is very clever at - I am trying to think of a polite way to put it - spin and making grand claims about what is achievable with systems, what is possible and what is within the bounds of probability. Here is a man who does not operate a single school in the country but was very quick to tell all the State and Territory ministers how to perform. We agreed at a MCEETYA meeting in July 2003 that we will work towards consistent curriculum outcomes in a range of areas. The emphasis was on the outcomes. That is entirely different from agreeing to have a nationally consistent curriculum. Clearly, individual State and Territories need to be responsive to the needs of their communities, for the very reasons that Norma indicated earlier. We talked about Circular Head needing to have an emphasis on agriculture-based subjects to satisfy the needs there. With a standardised curriculum you would have one size fits all. You would not be able to have that regional engagement. We said we would look at what we called statements of learning. For example, at the end of year 5, students of maths should have a basic understanding of X, Y and Z. That would offer some comfort to parents who are moving across jurisdictions, which is a problem with the Australian Defence Force. It does not affect us a lot in Tasmania, but every year as a result of Defence Force movements 80 000 kids move around Australia. The majority of that happens in the bigger States, not down here. We will never get to a situation where a child can move from grade 9, day 5, term 3, in Queensland, and a week later pick up the same text here. If they are reading Shakespeare up there at a particular time, they are not going to come down here and be reading the same text at exactly the same time in the year. It is not realistic. It does not give teachers enough flexibility in their classrooms or schools enough flexibility within their communities to produce a good outcome for kids. We are working towards consistency in outcomes and consistency in terminology - what we call the different junctures of schooling. Prep here is called reception in South Australia and kindergarten in New South Wales, and that terminology is very confusing. We have the problem here that our primary schools finish in year 6, whereas in other States they finish in year 7. We have different starting ages. There is a commitment to resolving all those things, but we will never end up with the same curriculum.

Monday 30 May 2005 - EDUCATION