I notice that the results of the NAPLAN testing, published on the My School website (www.myschool.edu.au), have caused quite a stir in the educational community. By this point most visitors to the site have noticed that CMS’s Level 3’s and 5’s did not score highly on the 2009 examinations.
While I am new to Australia, I have dealt with standardised test results over the past decade in Canada. In my opinion, standardised tests are neither a major problem nor the primary achievement benchmark that they are so often made out to be; instead, they simply offer a point-in-time snapshot, most times confirming the strengths and weaknesses that teachers have observed in their students over a period of time. When the results of this kind of testing are taken in conjunction with a wide range of assessment the total picture of a student’s progress can be evaluated. Taken in isolation, standardised test results are extremely limited, they have never been a great predictor of future student achievement or academic success – generally they simply predict how students in the future will do on this kind of testing.
There is always an argument made that Montessori students are at a disadvantage in this kind of testing, as this type of summative evaluation is not generally used with students in Montessori classrooms. This may be true; however, research shows that over time Montessori students generally do very well on standardised testing. This was certainly the case at CMS in 2008 - if you click over the tab to the previous years results, there is a lot of green on the page.
A Montessori education is a preparation for life, and since standardised testing will inevitably be part of a student’s future, I believe at CMS we should see standardised testing as a practical life activity, we should deal with it as a reality and attempt to prepare our students for this type of testing in the future.
As a school, I think we need to be careful not to over-react to a few low scores in 2009. We are a small primary school and in fact only 6 Level 5 students sat the NAPLAN test in 2009! Everyone knows that when you take an average of 6 numbers, one or two outliers can skew the results heavily in one direction or another. To extrapolate the results of a handful of tests and impugn the reputation of the education received by 200 students in 2009 and thousands of students at the school over more than 25 years is silly. If we are to look for trends in the data and use it to help instruct our practices we will need to see how our school performs over a period of time and in multiple cohorts (which we intend to do). I think that it is clear if our 2009 results are averaged with our 2008 results we already tend towards the middle of the spectrum.
At the office we have printed documents published by the Montessori Australia Foundation which outlines Montessori’s approach to assessment and the questions raised by standardised testing. Parents are welcome to copies of the articles. If you have further questions regarding NAPLAN, please make an appointment to see me at the office and we can work through the issues together.