The next generation of NAPLAN literacy and numeracy tests will transform the monitoring of students’ development of these key foundational skills. It will be 21st century assessment for 21st century young people and their families…Electronic delivery will bring major benefits. It will allow quicker turnaround of results and give schools a better opportunity to use the information diagnostically.” Barry McGaw
Two years ago I noticed that an ‘Expert Advisory Group for Digital Education’ was established by the federal minister. I noted at the time that Mr David Barnett, Chief Executive Officer of Pearson Australia, was a member of the group. In a recent email from ACARA I noticed a development that many will wish to know more about:
ACARA has contracted Pearson Australia to administer and invigilate the trial of online tests in schools. The trial period will begin on 12 August and will end on 6 September. Pearson will contact you soon to obtain dates on which your students are available.
What does ‘administer’ mean? What data does Pearson collect and what are the rules this business must follow?
I read the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Act 2008, with particular interest in the section on information collection, use and disclosure, as well as the process of tendering for ‘Item and Test Creation, Review and Delivery System’, but was left none the wiser in regards to what data about Australian children Pearson will have at their disposal. I phoned ACARA and the very helpful staff explained that it is not possible for a small team of four to administer these online trials so Pearson is contracted to run these practically at the schools who volunteer to participate.
My questions are not really to do with this particular trial or process but the implications for future developments in an Australia that commences a new, centralised curriculum in 2014 and could potentially outsource online standardised testing to a company like Pearson, as happens in other countries.
Pearson in America
There are many concerns about Pearson and standardised testing in the USA. These concerns are often ideological; what part should corporations play in public education, the foundation of our democracies? There are also many other concerns that are practical, educational matters, as the validity of many tests (questions) are questioned. You can gain some idea of the kind of expenditure a state, like Texas, is making by reading this article. Testing is an incredibly lucrative industry for Pearson with many taxpayers wondering what are the educational benefits for their children? This satirical image is as good a summary as any.
How will this unfold in Australia over the next few years, as governments change and technology improves? What role does the state have to properly fund education? What is the role of educational businesses in standardised testing or data collection generally?
One wonders what advice the CEO of Pearson would have for the minister on these, and other digital matters?
Recent controversies in the USA, so coherently explained by explained by Congressman Grayson, are also to the forefront of my thinking about the uses, both positive and negative, of big data. Who owns the past? was a question often studied in history courses and now one can ask this about data. Who owns the children’s data? Them? Their parents? The state? A future employer? Do the Australian people wish for their taxes to fund a centralised curriculum, tested by business, that will collect data to be controversially published on a website?
How secure is the data, regardless of who owns it?
Featured image: cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Kevin Chang: http://flickr.com/photos/thekevinchang/5264859023/