Living standardisation in the school: NAPLAN and the Australian curriculum via C2C, Queensland

Year: 2012

Author: Brennan, Marie, Mills, Martin, Renshaw, Peter, Lingard, Bob, Sellar, Sam, Zipin, Lew

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper explores the ways in which NAPLAN has become part of the 'everyday' in schools, with down-the-line effects on educators' work. Much has been written about the damaging effects of standardised and high stakes testing on certain groups of schools, teachers and students. The paper draws on data from a regional case study of primary and secondary schools in a high poverty area of Queensland, to understand how teachers and principals approach NAPLAN preparation, and how further introduction of an Australian national curriculum links to the positioning of teachers.

Data from our study indicate that focus on NAPLAN - particularly the detailed planning around targeted students and improving scores in poor areas - has led to explicit and significant deficit discourses in these schools. Dealing with standardised data is now taken for granted: it is still the subject of dispute and anxiety, yet it is also normalised and routinised. This new phase of reception of NAPLAN finds school actions far more targeting of individuals, including pictures of students identified as needing to 'get over the benchmark' by May, and specialist tutors and literacy coaches who work with teachers or students targeted as most likely to improve scores. Schools in this study also construct narratives about their capacity to 'add value' to their 'homegrown' students, as distinct from newcomers or transient students.

The focus on 'evidence' and standardised data has been taken up at the school level by increasing use of a wide range of other measures around self-esteem, wellbeing and welfare, often supported by packaged professional development or testing. Where once the 'welfare' domain of school was an alternative to the academic domain, welfare has been swept up, post-NAPLAN, into discourses that express deficit thinking and numerical representations of individuals, treating problems as something schools alone have responsibility to solve.

The 2012 introduction of the Australian national curriculum, via C2C (Curriculum into the Classroom) - a Queensland Departmental web-based resource of teaching materials - has heightened deficit discourses among teachers in these regional schools. While relying on C2C materials to implement the national curriculum, teachers are uneasy about the content, relevance and appropriateness of units of work for their students. Like NAPLAN, the national curriculum via the C2C resources provides another officially sanctioned metric to produce students from this high-poverty region as deficit learners who do not measure up to the requirements of a "21st century national curriculum".