Educational Accountability and Students with a Disability in Australia

Article excerpt

One of the outcomes of regular education reform in Australia has been the development of a national testing program for school students. This article examines the degree to which students with a disability participate in this testing, and the extent to which the testing of students with a disability may help to achieve the National Goals of Schooling in this country. Several international comparisons with the Australian situation are made. A number of recommendations are made to facilitate the participation of students with a disability in national testing as a means of achieving the goal of educational equity for these students.

Educational reform and educational accountability

The past thirty years have seen the level of educational accountability increase significantly (Elliot, Hyeonsook, Thurlow, & Ysseldyke, 1995; Jones, 1999; Labon, 1999; National Centre for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2000; Quenemoen, Lehr, Thurlow, & Massanari, 2001). An outcome of this change has been the development of national and international standards for the education of all students, incorporating the measurement of educational outcomes. The philosophy underpinning the development of such standards is that all students from all backgrounds should have the same opportunities to learn and to achieve (Labon, 1999;Thomas & Bainbridge, 2001).

Measurement of educational outcomes is considered important on several levels. At the international level, it permits the comparison of educational outcomes across countries (Jones, 1999). Curriculum and teaching strategies may similarly be compared, leading to information about common issues and standards in education. This, it is argued, plays a part in ensuring the economic competitiveness of countries in a globalised marketplace by informing national and international policy makers about the knowledge and skills of their human resource base (NCES, 2000). The measurement of educational outcomes at the national level forms an essential part of accountability systems (Quenemoen et al., 2001; Sirotnik & Kimball, 1999). These systems may drive education reform by informing policy makers about the effectiveness of current practices in education, including teaching strategies, resource management and curriculum development (Falk, 2002; Roach, Salisbury, & McGregor, 2002).

National education reform in Australia has been influenced by both the Hobart and the Adelaide Declarations (Department of Education, Science and Training [DEST], 2002a; Forlin & Forlin, 1998; Pascoe, 2001). The Hobart Declaration was the outcome of the Education Ministers' meeting in Hobart in 1987 and laid the foundation for the recognition of a common set of outcomes for learning. These became recognised as Key Learning Areas and laid the foundation for assessment and curriculum development across the states (see Department of Education, Training and Employment, South Australia [DETE SA], 2002; Forlin & Forlin, 1998). In 1999, the Education Ministers met again, and endorsed a set of nationally agreed, common goals for schooling to 'establish a foundation for action among State and Territory governments' (DEST, 2002b, p. 1). The purposes for establishing such goals were to improve educational partnerships, increase the quality of teaching and the curriculum, and 'increase public confidence in school education through explicit and defensible standards that guide improvement in students' levels of educational achievement' (DEST, 2002b, p. 2). These were endorsed as the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for schooling in the twenty-first century and were framed in inclusive language.

An early practical implementation of these goals was the establishment of the National Literacy and Numeracy Plan (DEST, 2002c). This plan was built on the relevant National Goals and consisted, firstly, of national numeracy and literacy benchmarks, or 'minimum acceptable standards for literacy and numeracy at a particular year level' (DEST, 2002d, p. …