Plan to test year ones
Testing students in year one rather than year three is the government's new plan to catch students falling behind in numeracy and literacy sooner.
National and NSW teachers' unions and education experts have strongly criticised federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham's plan to introduce literacy and numeracy checks for all year 1 students, and say that it involves importing a test that has failed to improve reading skills in British primary schools.
The plan, which was presented to all state and territory education ministers on Friday, includes the implementation of an adapted version of Britain's phonics screening check across primary schools by 2018, and the development and introduction of a numeracy check by 2019.
Mr Birmingham said the "light-touch assessments" will ensure "teachers, parents and schools know at the earliest possible stage if children aren't picking up reading or counting skills ... enabling them to intervene rapidly".
However, NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron said teachers were "infuriated by this nonsense that we have to endure".
"Britain achieves even worse results than Australia in PISA tests," Mr Mulheron said, pointing to Britain's lower scores in the OECD's latest reading, maths and science assessments.
"We don't need another test, we've got tests in year 3, year 5, year 9 and the HSC and we don't need additional data like this," he said.
"Teachers already use phonics plus a range of other reading strategies to suit children's requirements. What we need is additional support for teachers in the classroom, funding for students with disabilities, funding for speech pathologists, and that's exactly what's being cut."
Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said teachers were "gravely concerned" about the new checks.
"It's based on the assumption that assessments for students are not taking place in our schools and that is not correct," Ms Haythorpe said.
"Teachers already assess students and work out whether they're behind. The missing link is the resources to address that."
Paul Gardner, who is the Australian ambassador for the British literacy association and a senior lecturer in literacy at Curtin University, said the phonics-focused test "is a very confusing strategy for Australia to adopt".
Dr Gardner was previously a university lecturer in Britain for 19 years, including in 2011 when the phonics screening check was implemented, and said the structure of the test was problematic.
"It has 40 discrete words with no context whatsoever, and 20 of the words are nonsense words [like 'shup' and 'beff'], and what's happening in England is that teachers are spending a significant amount of time teaching nonsense words to get good at the test," Dr Gardner said.
He said that year 1 scores in the phonics check had improved significantly since it was introduced, but there had not been a corresponding increase in reading scores in the year 2 SATs, which Dr Gardner said was comparable to Australia's NAPLAN tests.
"When you impose any kind of test on schools, they invariably teach to it," Dr Gardner said.
"But there was a statistically insignificant difference in reading results in the SATs, there's no evidence it's working. Synthetic phonics is important but it has to be embedded in a broad, holistic approach to reading."
Professor of teacher education and the arts at the University of Sydney Robyn Ewing said: "We've found that the tests we already have aren't improving children's literacy and numeracy.
"We need to be investing in more professional learning and resources for teachers and giving children what they need in their learning, not just giving a phonics test to all children across Australia."
Acting chief executive of the Catholic Education Commission NSW Ian Baker said the "one-size-fits-all online platform for scoring student results ... is a major concern" but said the commission broadly supports the checks.
NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said he looked "forward to seeing the detail of the federal government's proposed national year 1 literacy and numeracy check and working with them on its implementation".
"The NSW government understands the importance of ensuring all students have a minimum standard of literacy and numeracy to ensure they have the basic reading, writing and maths skills needed for everyday tasks and future learning," Mr Stokes said.
However, Labor's education spokesman Jihad Dib said he was concerned the check will "inevitably become like a year 1 NAPLAN".
"I support strengthening literacy and numeracy but just focusing on phonics and linking it to a test in year 1 is not the way, we need a holistic approach," Mr Dib said.