Teaching, learning and testing:   Enacting national literacy and numeracy policy in Australia

Year: 2012

Author: Hardy, Ian

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper explores how the strong policy push to improve students' results on national literacy and numeracy tests in Australia has influenced schooling practices, including teachers' learning.  Drawing upon research in the state of Queensland, the paper argues the focus upon improved test scores on standardised, national literacy and numeracy tests within schools is the result of sustained policy pressure for increased attention to such foci at national and state levels, and a broader political context in which quantitative measures of student learning are considered most authoritative, and rapid improvement in standardised test results imperative.  Furthermore, these national and state policy foci intersect with teachers' genuine desires to improve the nature of students' learning experiences, resulting in a level of attention to policy foci not usually evident within the policy implementation (or more accurately, enactment) literature.  Even as educators argue against the reification of the quantification of educational outcomes, they simultaneously contribute to the conditions productive of such an approach.  That is, and in spite of their best efforts to the contrary, teachers and principals are so heavily influenced by external pressures for improved test scores, and about their students' results on these tests, that, arguably, these external pressures dominate over concerns for alternative approaches to student and teacher learning.  This enactment includes processes of streaming of students into ability groups, teacher professional development focused largely on analysing literacy and numeracy scores and data, and learning as a process of constant comparison of numeric results.  Drawing upon the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, the paper argues that, collectively, what is evident is a particular type of disposition - an 'enumerative disposition' - which, in its most reductionist iterations, construes numbers as authoritative and encompassing, as productive of improved teacher and student learning, and as sufficient grounds for justifying practices such as test preparation, and ability grouping of students.  Such a disposition has significant implications for the longer-term, educative dispositions of both teachers and students, and progressive educational logics more generally.