Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

National Test Performance of Young Australian Children with Additional Educational Needs

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

National Test Performance of Young Australian Children with Additional Educational Needs

Article excerpt

Abstract

While the national testing of Australian school students is now well-entrenched, the educational outcomes of students with additional needs in this country are unknown. Students with a disability may be exempted from national testing and, in the absence of consistent standards for test accommodations and alternative tests, Australian educational authorities continue to be unaccountable for these students. Using secondary data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, it is estimated that 12.3q of study children had additional educational needs (predominantly learning disabilities, emotional and behavioural disabilities and autism) that required specialist services. More than a third of students with additional needs did not participate in national testing. Those students with additional needs who did participate performed at a significantly lower level in comparison to students without additional needs. Further, students with additional needs in public schools were much more likely to have poorer academic outcomes than their counterparts in the Catholic and Independent education sectors.

Keywords

Special education, special needs students, learning disabilities, achievement tests, national competency tests, national norms

Introduction

Over the last decade in Australia, there has been a renewed focus within education on developing national policies, goals, and strategies to promote improvement in educational outcomes for all children. Australian policy, in the form of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, has been established (Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs [MCEECDYA], 2008). These goals include the rights of all students to access world-class curriculum and assessment. To achieve these goals, a number of initiatives have been put in place, and one of the most important of these involved the development of the National Assessment Program--Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and, more recently, a national curriculum (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2011 a). While these goals for equity are laudable, there has been on-going concern that such initiatives have failed students with additional needs.

As early as 2002, Dempsey identified a "lack of consistent methods of data collection and reporting for students with disabilities at the state and national level" and the difficulty in obtaining "an accurate picture of type and level of disability, where students are placed, what curriculum they access, and the educational outcomes of these students" (p. 27).

Nearly a decade ago, Dempsey and Conway (2004) argued that educational reform relied on accurate reporting through "inclusive processes in the measurement of educational outcomes and accountability systems" (p. 12). They raised concerns that students with disabilities were most likely to be excluded from large-scale assessment and reporting critical components of the Australian educational accountability system. Since this early work, a raft of Australian education policy and related initiatives has evolved. These recent goals and initiatives are described and discussed in relation to students with additional educational needs.

National Australian Educational Policy

Since 1999, national goals for schooling have driven broad directions for Australian schools and education authorities. The achievement of socially just and comparable educational outcomes for all students including students with additional needs (MCEECDYA, 2010) was embedded into a common and agreed commitment to developing curriculum and related systems of assessment, accreditation and credentialing. The MCEECDYA Four Year Plan 2009-2012 (2009a) outlines key strategies to support the achievement of educational goals for all Australians, and strategies in two specific areas are of relevance to this paper.

Key strategies for the promotion of world-class curriculum and assessment include a National Curriculum, and plans to improve the capacity of schools to assess student performance, to link assessment to the national curriculum, and to manage the National Assessment Program. …

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