SA government introduces controversial skills test

Issue 

SA government introduces controversial skills test

By Adam Hanieh

ADELAIDE — On August 16 the Liberal state government will introduce a basic skills test to assess the standard of primary school students in years three and five. The test has drawn sharp criticism from teachers, students, parents and the wider community.

The basic skills test is a standardised one that has been used by the NSW Education Department.

The South Australian Institute of Teachers (SAIT) has pointed out that standardised tests do not accurately reflect learning abilities in the classroom. The different experiences of children at that age cannot be measured with one test. For example, a student who has good numeracy skills but low literacy skills will find the numeracy test difficult.

SAIT says that testing should be based on what is taught and used to improve learning. The Department of Education and Children's Services has said that the test will not be used to identify student weaknesses.

Teachers fear the tests will be used to scapegoat teachers for the enormous cuts to education implemented by the state government.

In Britain and the US, similar tests have been used to rank schools on a league table without taking into account students' diverse backgrounds or schools' resources. The test will also be seen as a measure of teachers' performance, and may well dictate what is taught.

SAIT believes that the key problem is the lack of resources for students with learning difficulties, and the enormous pressures teachers face today.

Despite an initially strong campaign against the test, which included a planned boycott by 150 schools, SAIT has now backed away from confronting the government. On August 11, SAIT announced that although it still condemned the test, it would no longer direct teachers to boycott it.