23 SES 06 C, Testing, Assssment, Policy
Parallel Paper Session
Neoliberalism has driven a now well-established era of governance of education at a distance, accountability, and policy as numbers across education systems in Europe, the United States and Australia. These aspects of governance are frequently positioned as essential strategies for remedying educational inequity: the monitoring of an education system ensures that all schools are meeting the needs of all students. However, the ‘architecture’ required to monitor an education system can be faulty, and an apparent attention to equity can be flawed. Such a situation will be explored in the context of Australia, revealing a problematic system of data collection, which will have resonance at an international level. Australia, like many countries has introduced significant education reform, and since 2008 has held national tests of literacy and numeracy for all students in all schools, in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Despite the multicultural, multilingual character of the Australian population, maintained through ongoing skilled migration in the face of high employment demands and the resettlement of refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, these tests are standardized, and built on an assumption of English as a first language competency. All students are required to participate in these tests with a twelve month exemption period only, for newly arrived students who are speakers of languages other than English. The capacity for measuring the performance of students who speak languages other than English is achieved through the disaggregation of test data using a category labeled Language Background Other than English (LBOTE). The definition of the LBOTE category is that it is for those students who speak a language other than English or whose parent/s speak a language other than English at home. The logic of this category is that it would identify a need on the basis of language: students who are captured within this group may require recognition that their performance may be influenced by their command of standard Australian English. However, there is no capacity to identify English language proficiency in the category and so the breadth of the definition means that students who are competent bilinguals, or even native speakers of English, but whose parents are speakers of other languages, are grouped with students who are in the early stages of acquiring English. The category definition is so broad that the disaggregated national data suggest that students in this category are outperforming English speaking students, on most domains of the tests, though the LBOTE category shows greater variance of results. These national results suggest that the data may be hiding more than they are revealing. This problem will be explored through a policy-focused theoretical framework in which policy technologies which drive statistical categories, and are built on the power of policy as numbers, will be juxtaposed against theoretical understandings of second language acquisition. Further, this problem will be situated in broader theoretical considerations related to the complexities inherent in the intersection of nation-state interests and global movement of peoples.
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