What are the potential impacts of high-stakes testing on literacy education in Australia?
This literature review explores the potential impacts of high-stakes testing on literacy education in Australia. The paper draws upon research primarily from the United States and the United Kingdom. Both of these countries have pursued high-stakes testing in order to increase accountability, encourage standardisation, and to close the achievement gap between socially advantaged and socially disadvantaged students. The issue is discussed by exploring the impact of high-stakes testing upon curriculum and pedagogy. The paper concludes that the predominantly negative unintended consequences of high-stakes testing result from a failure to gain the support of teachers for testing systems. It is recommended that, in order for literacy education to benefit from the opportunities provided by the emphasis upon literacy in high-stakes systems, teachers be provided with a greater role in the design, implementation and evaluation of the tests, as well as having input into how test results are used.

Article Type:
High-stakes tests (Educational aspects)
Literacy (Australia)
Literacy (Management)
Education (Australia)
Education (Management)
Lobascher, Samuel
Pub Date:
Name: Literacy Learning: The Middle Years Publisher: Australian Literacy Educators' Association Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Australian Literacy Educators' Association ISSN: 1320-5692
Date: June, 2011 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 2
Event Code: 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Product Code: 8200000 Education NAICS Code: 61 Educational Services
Geographic Scope: Australia Geographic Name: Australia Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia
Accession Number:
Full Text:

High-stakes testing is itself a simple concept: if students and teachers are held to account they will each work harder to achieve better results. Under accountability measures schools, teachers and students will strive to do their best to receive rewards and to avoid punishment. However, as H.L. Mencken observed, 'There is always an easy solution to every human problem: neat, plausible and wrong' (William, 2010, p. 107). Such a neat and plausible solution as using accountability to increase standards in schools was recommended by a Royal Commission into education in England and Wales, published in 1861 (William, 2010). The Commission took place in response to expansion of the state's role in funding education; presumably, the state was concerned about what their money was being used for. Across the Atlantic, concern regarding the impact of high-stakes testing in schools was unmistakably articulated by Emerson E. White in his Elements of Pedagogy:

They have perverted the best efforts of teachers, and narrowed and grooved their instruction; they have occasioned and made well-nigh imperative the use of mechanical and rote methods of teaching; they have occasioned cramming and the most vicious habits of study; they have caused much of the overpressure charged upon schools, some of which is real; they have tempted both teachers and pupils to dishonesty; and last but not least, they have permitted a mechanical method of school supervision. (in William, 2010, p. 109)

Despite the massive technological, social, professional and economic changes that have taken place in the last 150 years, the high-stakes debate continues to cyclically recur. Currently in Australia, the accountability-pendulum has swung firmly in favour of high-stakes testing.

Prior to exploring the contextual factors surrounding the implementation of high-stakes testing, the term itself must first be defined. The American Educational Research Association lists a range of aspects that contribute to tests being regarded as high-stakes: they carry serious consequences for students or educators; schools may be judged by their school-side average; high results may bring public praise; while low results may bring public embarrassment (Marchant, 2004). Accountability testing, often used interchangeably with the term high-stakes, simply means that teachers and students will be held to account for their performance (William, 2010). Given the publication of National Assessment Program--Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test-results on the MySchool website and subsequent media identification of high and low-performing schools, it is indisputable that NAPLAN tests have become high-stakes. The rapid implementation of the recommendations contained in the Masters (2009) report into poor performance on the 2008 NAPLAN tests in Queensland also indicates that the tests have become high-stakes (Lingard, 2010).

The global context

The introduction of high-stakes testing within Australia is indicative of what Lingard (2010) describes as a global policy convergence, with testing a key part of the globalised educational policy discourse. The international educational focus has shifted from inputs and processes to outputs and outcomes: governments are increasingly more concerned with the ends than the means (Lingard, 2010). Australia's educational policy is belatedly following the path established by Britain and the United States.

Increased accountability was pivotal to England, Wales and Northern Ireland's 1988 Education Reform Act. Stressing the need for greater accountability, the Act sought to refocus schools upon fundamental academic knowledge after the progressive policies of the late 1970s (Rustique-Forrester, 2005). This was achieved through the introduction of a national curriculum, national assessments, national performance targets and the ranking and comparison of schools (Rustique-Forrester, 2005). The reforms were both assertive and uncompromising, and having been endorsed by New Labour have only recently been reconsidered in two widely publicised reports: the Cambridge Primary Review (Alexander, 2009) and the House of Commons Inquiry into Testing and Assessment (House of Commons, 2008).

The Cambridge Primary Review (Alexander 2009) describes itself as the first comprehensive review of English primary education in 40 years. Lingard (2010) summarises the findings of the report as a devastating attack on the effects of the Education Reform Act. The Review raises particular concerns about the impact and inaccuracy of high-stakes testing and encourages a shift of focus from testing and accountability to producing good quality teachers. While the House of Commons inquiry agreed that extensive accountability testing was distorting students' educational experiences, it still supported national testing as a means of validating achievement and found that accountability drives up standards and leads to more confidence in education. Despite some differences, both the Review and the Inquiry raised concerns about the long-term impacts of high-stakes testing, primarily the consequence that schools were focusing exclusively on test scores.

In many ways the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) act, introduced in the U.S. by George W. Bush in 2002, mirrors the Education Reform Act. NCLB has four main aspects: accountability; flexibility and local control; enhanced parental choice; and focus on what works (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). The accountability component of the Act monitors schools for sufficient yearly progress based upon student achievement in annual assessments. Koretz (2002) succinctly summarises the 1100 pages of the Act: 'You assess student performance using measures that you think are sufficient to summarise what kids have learned over a long period of time; you set very ambitious targets for improvements in scores on those tests; you require continual improvement; and then you reward and punish.' Indeed, carrots, such as financial rewards, and sticks, such as school restructuring, are central to NCLB.

The current educational reforms taking place in Australia are clearly indebted to the U.S. and Britain. Lingard (2010) believes this is due to the policy borrowing and the flow of people between Australia and Britain, and to a lesser extent between Australia and the U.S. However, neither of these countries is seen to represent educational best practice. The Queensland Studies Authority (QSA), in an article critiquing the move to high-stakes testing, urges Australian policy-makers not to repeat the mistakes of the UK and the USA (2009). Lingard also wonders why Australian policy is being borrowed from the UK or USA when Australia outperforms these two nations on key international measures.

One nation that does score higher than Australia and the rest of the world on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluation is Finland. Finland has bucked global educational trends by resisting standardisation, a focus on literacy and numeracy, and consequential accountability (Sahlberg, 2007). Instead, Finland has embraced loose standards, holistic learning, and has entrusted teachers to monitor student progress. The focus of the Finnish system appears to be on producing and empowering high-quality teachers (Sahlberg, 2007), which contrasts with moves to increase centralised control and reduce the authority of teachers in the UK, USA and now Australia.

The need for further research

As Australia embraces the policies of the USA and the UK and pursues a nationalised system that employs high-stakes testing as an accountability mechanism, it is pertinent to consider the potential effects. As Australia is, in comparison to the USA and UK, a recent convert to high-stakes testing at a national level, international research can be analysed to anticipate the potential effects in the Australian educational context (Mills, 2008).

While policy-makers are likely to have been focused on quantitative data, this report will also draw upon qualitative data that considers the local impact upon individual schools and classrooms. Luke (2010) believes that evidenced-based policy disregards qualitative studies, regarding them as soft and non-generalisable. In educational policy there is, according to Luke (2010), a perceived binary distinction:

The disregarding of studies of actual classroom, pedagogical practice in the formation of high-stakes testing policy, reveals that this is an area that requires further consideration (Luke, 2010). Thus, this research report will explore both the intended and unintended consequences of high-stakes testing by referring to both qualitative and quantitative research.

Also, the impact of high-stakes testing on literacy education is significant given that literacy is one of two areas of focus of the NAPLAN testing system. This suggests that improving literacy standards in Australian schools is an underlying objective of the shift towards highstakes testing and increased accountability. Literacy has also been at the forefront of the accountability debate in Australia, amid concerns regarding the 'dumbing-down' of literacy education, echoing the concerns expressed in England in the late 1980s (Mills, 2008). These concerns have already seen a curriculum shift in Queensland from critical literacy to a renewed emphasis on grammar and comprehension, vividly expressed in Masters' (2009) review of literacy learning in Queensland primary schools.

This report will address the following question: What are the potential impacts of highstakes testing on literacy education in Australia? Given the potential research gap identified by Luke (2010) in the formation of Australia's high-stakes testing policy, the focus upon literacy of NAPLAN and the relative novelty of national high-stakes testing in modern Australia, this question is clearly pertinent. In explaining the purpose of the Cambridge Primary Review, Alexander succinctly justified the role of the report: 'Primary education suffers more than its fair share of scaremongering and hyperbole, not to mention deliberate myth-making ... Wherein lies the truth? And isn't it time to move on from the populism, polarisation and name calling which for too long have supplanted real educational debate and progress?' (2009, p. 5). Further research into high-stakes testing could be similarly warranted.

Impact upon curriculum

The introduction of high-stakes standardised tests into Australian schools is likely to have a profound effect on the literacy curriculum in two ways. Firstly, literacy's role within the broader school curriculum will be emphasised. Secondly, the literacy curriculum itself will become aligned with the content being tested. The curriculum impact of standardised testing has been explored in a range of qualitative studies that have sought feedback from teachers, principles and local authorities (Alexander, 2009; Anagnostopoulos, 2003; Au, 2007; Bourque, 2004; Clarke, Shore, Rhoades, Abrams, Miao & Li, 2003; Collins et al., 2010; Jones & Egley, 2004; Jones, Jones and Hargrove, 2003; Powell, Higgins, Aram and Freed, 2009).

The scope and implications of this evidence has led Jones et al. (2003, p. 34) to observe, 'Of all the consequences of high-stakes testing, the impact of testing on the curriculum is perhaps the most dramatic.' Similarly, two extensive reviews of standardised testing in England, the Cambridge Primary Review (Alexander, 2009) and the House of Commons (2008) review, both found consistent agreement that standardised testing has led to a narrowing of the curriculum. While there is agreement that the curriculum has become focused on tested content, opinions differ relating to the impact of this upon literacy education.

Whole-school curriculum

In terms of the general curriculum teachers have noted a range of positive effects. This includes observations that alignment with large-scale testing instruments has resulted in greater consistency within and across schools (Clarke et al., 2003; Crocker, 2004; Jones, 2007). Teachers have also noted that they have been provided with more explicit expectations relating to what they should be teaching, which in turn has resulted in a renewed emphasis on key content (Clarke et al., 2003; Jones, 2007). Jones and Egley's (2004) analysis of teacher perceptions of high-stakes testing in Florida found only a minority of teachers were concerned with the loss of curricula autonomy, although the views of this minority are emphasised in the findings. These studies suggest that the literacy curriculum will become more focused and consistent as it aligns with standardised tests.

Evidence from the United States and the UK indicate that literacy will have a prominent role within a narrowed curriculum (Bourque, 2004; Clarke et al., 2003; Collins et al., 2010; Crocker, 2004; House of Commons, 2008; Jones, 2007; Jones, Jones & Hargrove, 2003; Powell et al., 2009). This is likely to be replicated in Australia given NAPLAN's focus on literacy and numeracy. The limited scope of standardised testing has seen a reduction in time spent teaching social science and science and an extensive marginalisation of the arts and physical education, particularly in the US (Jones et al., 2003). This effect is defended by the British Department for Education and Skills (DfES), which argues: 'There is nothing that narrows a pupil's experience of the curriculum so quickly as a poor preparation for the level of literacy ... that the subject demands' (House of Commons 2008, p. 50). Literacy education is likely to benefit from this renewed focus.

A tangible effect of the narrowed curriculum within the US and the UK has been an increase in the time spent teaching literacy. Exploring the impact of NCLB on curriculum reform, Bourque (2004) found that time devoted to the explicit teaching of reading and reading strategies increased 22 per cent after the introduction of accountability testing. Similarly, 67 per cent of primary teachers in North Carolina claimed they were spending more time on reading and 65 per cent were spending more time on writing, in response to testing (Jones et al., 2003). The same study found 499 minutes were being spent each week teaching reading and writing compared to 102 minutes for social science and 99 minutes for science (Jones et al., 2003). A comparable analysis of teachers in Maine and Missouri revealed an extra 10 minutes being spent each day teaching reading (Powell et al., 2009). Teachers in England also revealed that they emphasise literacy instruction in order to prepare students for Key Stage tests (Collins et al., 2010). Powell (2009) also found that schools were choosing to emphasise reading professional development over other subject areas. Clearly, literacy's prominence within standardised testing regimes is leading to a focus on reading and writing within the classroom and in teacher development.

The consequence of this focus upon literacy has resulted in improving performance on high-stakes tests (Bourque, 2004). The emphasis upon literacy is leading to an instructional focus, as well as schools investing in the improvement of literacy instruction (Jones et al., 2003). However, while experiences in the US and UK suggest that time spent teaching literacy will increase in response to NAPLAN tests and that literacy education will become more focused and consistent, the literacy curriculum itself may become aligned with the tests, leading to the exclusion of non-tested concepts.

Literacy curriculum

Masters (2009) suggests that for Queensland to improve outcomes in literacy, teachers should align their practice with the levels of literacy expected by NAPLAN. While the positive aspects of this alignment have been explored above, concerns arise given the limitations of what can be tested (Anagnostopoulos, 2003; Mills, 2008; QSA, 2009; Williams, 2009). The QSA (2009, p. 3) claims that testing encourages 'methods of teaching that promote shallow and superficial learning rather than deep conceptual understanding and the kinds of complex knowledge and skills needed in modern, information-based societies'. Analyses of the literacy aspects of NAPLAN papers support this concern.

Williams's (2009) dissection of the role of grammar in the 2008 NAPLAN language conventions test found that of the paper's 50 multiple choice questions 28 related to spelling, nine to punctuation and only six to grammar. The grammatical questions required students to identify particular aspects within clauses, with the tests not asking students to consider why features are being used or how they are functioning within a text (Williams, 2009). The analysed test did not require students to engage in critical or higher-order thinking, instead resorting to closed questioning that relied upon recall of concepts. This leads Williams (2009, p. 12) to state that NAPLAN testing 'has the potential to encourage teachers to return to a superficial and largely discredited approach to teaching grammar'. This is a concern echoed by Mills (2008) who regards the renewed emphasis on basic literacy as addressing minimum standards of the past that do not equip students with the skills to navigate the current multimodal textual landscape. Alignment of the literacy curriculum with NAPLAN testing will thus result in an emphasis upon non-contextualised, non-critical, recall-based skills.

Such an effect was observed in relation to student engagement with literature in Chicago, a pioneer of accountability testing in the US (Anagnostopoulos, 2003). The study observed urban students completing a unit on To Kill a Mockingbird in preparation for a test. Despite students wishing to explore how race is explored in the text and compare it to ethnic differences in their own school, the teacher sought to keep discussions related to content that would appear on the test. Given the emphasis on test preparation the teacher focused on text reproduction and encouraging the students to uncritically accept the author's perspectives. Anagnostopoulos (2003) observed that the focus on the exam neutralised the political and ideological content of the text, with an emphasis instead on concepts such as plot and character, with the students regarded as 'minimally skilled consumers of texts who accept, uncritically, the narrator's perspective' (p. 190). The alignment of the unit with the test instrument thus reduced To Kill a Mockingbird to a stimulus for students to demonstrate their ability to write a well-constructed essay. Their knowledge of the text was superficial and unconnected to their own experiences.

Impact on curriculum: findings

The curriculum impact of standardised testing upon literacy is clearly multi-faceted. The alignment of the curriculum with the tests is likely to lead to greater consistency in literacy education, as well as to teachers being provided with clearer expectations about what they are expected to teach (Clarke et al., 2003; Crocker, 2004; Jones, 2007). Evidence from the UK and USA also suggests that the emphasis of the tests upon literacy will result in an increase in the amount of time spent teaching reading, writing and language skills (Bourque, 2004; Collins et al., 2010; Clarke et al., 2003; Crocker, 2004; House of Commons, 2008; Jones, 2007; Jones et al., 2003; Powell et al., 2009). However, the limited content tested by NAPLAN may result in the extra time being spent teaching basic skills at the expense of critical literacy (Anagnostopoulos, 2003; Mills, 2008; QSA, 2009; Williams, 2009). McCollow (2006) argues that NAPLAN has supplanted critical literacy with an emphasis on traditional knowledge and values, resulting in limited educational outcomes. The prominence of literacy in schools is likely to increase in response to standardised testing, however the focus of literacy education will be reduced to an emphasis on basic skills unless the scope of tested content is increased.

Impact upon pedagogy

The current debate surrounding the pedagogical effects of high-stakes testing is typified by William Hatfield's comment from 1916: 'Twelve years of school life has made them adept at memorising, but many of them are novices in thinking ...' (Mills, 2008, p. 213). Hatfield's concern is that students are merely taught by their teachers to pass exams, and it is a concern that is likely to be amplified within a high-stakes testing environment. However the pedagogical impact of high-stakes testing is not, although it is prevalent, limited to a teach-to-the-test approach.

Negative impact upon pedagogy

Research indicating that high-stakes testing has a negative pedagogical effect is extensive (Anagnostopoulos, 2003; Au, 2007; QSA, 2009; Alexander, 2009; Groves, 2002; House of Commons, 2008; Jones, 2007; Jones & Egley, 2004; Ryan & Weinstein, 2009; Scot et al., 2009; Williams, 2009). The dominant argument is that high-stakes testing discourages teachers from being creative, and instead encourages didactic teach-to-the-test approaches that reduce motivation.

The House of Commons (2008) found that there is a clear tension between accountability and inspired teaching. This results from a loss of pedagogical autonomy, requiring teachers to adopt standardised approaches that fail to engage their students (Jones & Egley, 2004; Jones et al., 2003; Scot et al., 2009). Jones et al. (2003) argue that high-stakes testing has taken the art out of teaching, encouraging what they term a cookbook approach to teaching where one simply delivers the prescribed lessons. A survey of teachers' perceptions of testing in Florida supports this argument, finding that teachers believe testing has stifled their creativity and enforced a formulated approach (Jones & Egley, 2004). An interviewed teacher claimed that, 'School is becoming a drudgery for teachers and students alike' (Jones & Egley, 2004, p. 19). Scot et al. (2009), interviewing teachers of gifted students, reveal that districts were using curriculum-pacing guides that provide teachers with a step-by-step manual telling them what to teach each day. Such an approach has resulted in students losing their excitement and interest in learning as teachers are discouraged from teaching innovatively (Scot et al., 2009). Such approaches have led to parents observing the adoption of pedagogical methods that 'stifle natural creativity and emotional intelligence' in students (Alexander, 2009, p. 33).

Teaching to the test is a much-discussed pedagogical impact of high-stakes testing (Anagnostopoulos, 2003; Au, 2007; Groves, 2002; Jones, 2007; QSA, 2009; Williams, 2009). The QSA (2009) claims that tests encourage methods of teaching that promote shallow and superficial learning. This concern is justified by a Florida-based study that found teachers spent 40 per cent of instructional time practising test-taking strategies (Jones, 2007). The same study also found that, when they were not discussing approaches to exams, teachers focused on low-level knowledge and skills through the use of role level drill and skill practice. Au (2007) has also found that in response to high-stakes testing the majority of surveyed teachers resorted to merely lecturing test-related facts. In these cases the alignment of pedagogical practices with test instruments has led to superficial, non-contextualised engagement with the course content that embraces discredited teaching methods (Williams, 2009). This is typified by a Principal of a low socio-economic standing school in North Carolina who, in response to accountability measures, admitted to replacing quality, inclusive instructional approaches with pedagogies focused on test preparation that marginalised much of the school's cohort (Groves, 2002).

Anagnostopoulos' (2003) observations of the impact of high-stakes testing on the teaching of To Kill a Mockingbird also reveals pedagogical concerns. Essentially, the two observed teachers were more concerned with test preparation than with exploring the novel. The teachers spent only three weeks reading the novel compared with 12 weeks spent preparing for the exam. In order to cover the text in such a brief period one of the teachers stopped reading the novel and read the screenplay instead. The study also revealed that conventional, didactic teaching methods were applied that positioned students as passive uncritical readers; a claim supported by evidence that 65-70 percent of posed questions were literal and 90 percent of written tasks involved students completing worksheets. While there is a danger in generalising the results of a study limited to two teachers in one school in Chicago, it does provide an example of the potential effects of accountability regimes on the way in which teachers teach literacy.

High-stakes testing may also encourage teachers to rely upon extrinsic motivation, the threat of the test, to engage students and encourage compliance. Ryan and Weinstein (2009) reveal that teachers explicitly instructed to produce high-standards were more likely to employ techniques relying upon extrinsic motivation that have been shown to negatively impact students' long-term interest. They support their argument with reference to a study that examined the use of tests in primary schools. The group of students who were told they would be tested and graded had less depth of processing and less conceptual knowledge, while those told that they would be tested to check for their understanding showed higher levels of conceptual learning and reported more interest and enjoyment in the material. Pedagogical approaches that use testing as an extrinsic motivator thus may lead to students not just enjoying school less, but also engaging with the content in isolation and at a superficial level.

No impact upon pedagogy

As shown, there are a variety of ways in which high-stakes testing can lead to the adoption of ineffective pedagogical practices. The studies discussed so far suggest that in response to high-stakes tests teachers are less likely to utilise innovative practices, will focus on test preparation at the expense of depth of understanding, and will rely on extrinsic motivation to engage students. However, two studies representing significantly different contexts suggest this effect may be overstated.

Maier (2009) explored the impact feedback from recently implemented standardised tests had on teachers' pedagogical decisions in Baden-Wurttemberg in the south-west of Germany. It was found that only a small minority of teachers altered their teaching strategies in response to test results. Despite the Government's apparent focus on using the test results to catalyse an improvement in teaching standards, teachers dismissed the tests as a new form of bureaucratic control (Maier 2009). Firestone, Mayrowitz and Fairman (1998) similarly explored the pedagogical effects of testing on Maths education in Maine and Maryland. They also found that teachers did not adjust their instructional methods irrespective of the results achieved by their students, and ignored professional development opportunities focused on test achievement. The findings of these two studies, which contrast significantly with research referred to earlier, may be explained by the lack of consequential accountability systems being attached to the test results. Firestone et al. (1998) undertook their study prior to the implementation of the NCLB policy in the US, while Baden-Wurttemberg was still developing an external accountability system at the time of Maier's (2009) study.

Positive impact upon pedagogy

Research indicating that high-stakes testing has a positive impact upon pedagogy is limited (Au, 2007; Clarke et al., 2003; Firestone et al., 1998). A qualitative metasynthesis undertaken by Au (2007) found that, in a small number of cases, testing led to an increase in student-centred instruction. Firestone et al. (1998) also found that confident teachers responded to the implementation of high-stakes tests with an intellectually challenging, inquiry-orientated approach. An extensive study of teachers in Kansas, Michigan and Massachusetts revealed a renewed emphasis on writing, critical thinking skills, discussion and explanation after the introduction of accountability systems (Clarke et al., 2003). These positive effects are related to either the perceived quality of the testing instrument (Au, 2007), or the professional development opportunities provided in certain areas to assist teachers in addressing the expectations of accountability systems. This suggests professional development may play a pivotal role in influencing teachers' pedagogical responses to high-stakes testing.

Pedagogy and professional development

The Cambridge Primary Review (Alexander, 2009) observes that it is not testing that raises standards, but good teaching. However, this does not mean that testing and good teaching are incompatible. Masters (2009) advises that literacy teachers having access to high quality, evidence-based professional development in conjunction with accountability testing. Research findings support this recommendation. Lamb (2007), exploring the testing culture in a rural Mississippi school found that inexperienced teachers were more likely to limit their pedagogical approaches in response to tests. Firestone et al. (2004) similarly found that more experienced teachers and those who had been involved in analysis of the testing instruments responded with intellectually challenging, inquiry-orientated approaches, while teachers who were uncertain of their teaching ability resorted to didactic instruction. Jones et al. (2003) also state that the type of professional development undertaken by teachers determined their pedagogical responses to the tests. Professional development that focuses on applying test results to address students' strengths and weaknesses is likely to have a different effect than training focused exclusively on improving cohort averages. Thus it is arguable that the short-term, teach-to-the-test approaches revealed earlier can be addressed by accompanying high-stakes testing with professional development that provides teachers with the skills to improve test results through enhanced pedagogical practices. While this may seem obvious, the depth of data highlighting poor pedagogical responses suggests that the implementation of accountability systems have often been accompanied by a belief that they alone will improve teaching practices.

Impact upon pedagogy: findings

There is clearly a depth of evidence to justify Hilliard's (2000) observation that 'there is a fundamental disconnect between high-stakes standardised testing and the movement towards excellence in education' (p. 298). However further analysis reveals that confident, experienced teachers with access to effective professional development are able to connect high-stakes testing with excellent teaching. Studies, although limited, suggest that the impact of accountability testing on the pedagogical approaches of literacy teachers depends upon the provision of effective professional development. Nevertheless, such an approach has thus far been rare.

Conclusion and recommendations

This literature review has sought to reveal the potential impacts of high-stakes testing on literacy education in Australia. Such a review is deemed necessary due to the disregarding of teachers' perspectives and experience by policy makers (Luke, 2010), the focus upon literacy of NAPLAN testing and the recent implementation of national high-stakes testing in Australia. In order to address this concern, two key issues have been discussed in detail: curriculum and pedagogy.

Within these areas of concern a consistent theme emerges. Throughout the research a recurrent finding is the resistance of teachers to the implementation of high-stakes testing. Such a finding supports Fullan's (1995) claim that 'teachers and educational systems are known more for their capacity to resist change than for their roles as agents of reform' (p. 8). This resistance is due to the failure of those implementing change to address teachers' entrenched beliefs (Fullan, 1991). The negative effects of high-stakes testing are unintended consequences resulting from the inability or resistance of teachers to implement the reforms in the manner they are intended. This perspective suggests that high-stakes testing itself is not the key concern, for example the House of Commons (2008) report on testing and assessment found consistent support for accountability measures, it is the failure of policymakers to effectively manage the introduction of accountability testing that encourages teachers to 'buy-in'.

This finding is consistent with the recommendations of Koretz (2002), Lingard (2010) and the QSA (2009). Koretz (2002) suggests that policymakers need to collaborate with teachers in the design and evaluation of testing systems. Lingard (2010) also emphasises the need to 'Reject the top-down, one-way gaze upon teachers as the sole source and solution to all schooling problems' as well as recognising the 'centrality of informed teacher judgement and quality of pedagogies to achieving better learning outcomes for all students' (p. 144). Finally, the QSA (2009) recommends that future and current teachers are equipped with the support and training to enable them to improve their teaching and student learning in the changing educational landscape.

The potential impact of high-stakes testing on literacy education in Australia is therefore dependent on how the change-process is managed. A failure to engage educators will result in the good intentions articulated at the Melbourne Declaration (MCEETYA 2009) being derailed by unintended consequences resultant from resistant, unengaged and uninformed teachers. For literacy education to benefit from its increased emphasis provided by NAPLAN, teachers must be involved with the process of designing, implementing and evaluating the tests, as well as supporting the distribution and application of test data. For this involvement to be productive, teachers will require professional development in designing and evaluating assessment. High-stakes testing will provide both challenges and opportunities for literacy education in Australia, and whether these challenges can be overcome and opportunities capitalised upon depends upon the support of classroom teachers. International research suggests such an approach that empowers and entrusts teachers within an accountability framework would be unique.


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Between qualitative 'critical work' which has been portrayed as
   scientifically 'soft', politically correct and ideological by the
   press, politicians and educational bureaucrats--and empirical,
   quantitative scientific research, which is presented as unbiased,
   truthful and the sole grounds for rational policy formation. (p.
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