Making sense of governance and performance measurement systems: The case of NAPLAN

Year: 2012

Author: Gable, Alison, Lingard, Bob

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper reports on research comparing the dynamics of Performance Measurement (PM) systems in four domains of Australian social policy. NAPLAN, as an example of a PM system within the domain of schooling, now serves as a policy instrument for change and receives considerable research attention regarding its adequacy as a tool for assessing literacy and numeracy, as a mode of accountability, or in broader considerations of emergent subjectivities and political effects. However, as a representation of a PM system it sits within a much wider context of public sector reform, thereby providing opportunity to more closely examine the continuities and differences within Australia's own variant of neo-liberal governance across policy domains. The research on which this paper draws, seeks a methodological pathway through NAPLAN that will not only provide some insights into is effects at the coal-face, but also the dynamics of governance.

This paper introduces an analytic framework for the study of PM systems and the ways in which they transform the realities of front-line administrators, professionals and service users. It describes five meta-themes emerging from literature reviews across all four policy domains and the initial phase of data collection. NAPLAN is positioned within a broader policy context with the aim of identifying important mechanisms and contexts that may have downward effects on working lives.

The framework provides a mid-level, theoretical entry point into the project's next phase of data collection. It serves as a tentative methodological tool for developing an understanding NAPLAN in two ways. First in relation to the lived experiences of those it affects and second in relation to developing a better understanding of PM systems.

The application of the framework to NAPLAN reveals potentially important influences, assumptions, regulatory dynamics, competing policy agendas, tensions in professionalism, and the emergence of new forms of governance likely to have real effects and affects in schools. NAPLAN appears to offer particular insights into elements of governance that have had more or less success in other domains and therefore potentially powerful mechanisms in policy design.

This framework will serve as a useful tool for understanding the PM phenomenon both within unique policy domains and broader public sector reform efforts. Ultimately, a better understanding of NAPLAN's role in education reform could diminish counterproductive policy design and outcomes.