Listened TER #109 – How large-scale tests affect school management with Marten Koomen – 04 March 2018 by Cameron Malcher from Teachers' Education Review
Cameron Malcher speaks with Marten Koomen about his research into the process by which large-scale tests like PISA and NAPLAN affect school management and curriculum.

Marten Koomen frames the conversation around a discussion of collectivism, neoliberalism and skepticism. For collectivists, school is the responsibility of the state, whereas neoliberals consider it as another product to be consumed. While without effective governance, skepticism ends up in tragedy. Our current climate is very much in response to neoliberalism, however:

We are all part collectivist, individualists neoliberals and skeptics, so to identify in one corner is disingenuous.

The key question that Koomen tries to address is: How did Victoria go from a state that was a leader in content knowledge and democratic values to the launch of a content-free platform driven by the terror of performativity? As he explains,

They had this idea of the net, but no idea of the content … a complete infatuation with the technology.

Discussing PISA, Koomen provides some background to computer-based testing and the ‘Koomen Model’. The model involved providing schools with standardized devices for the consistency of data. It failed based on pressure.

In part, Koomen’s model tells us something about the data and what it tells us. There are groups out there that want the outcomes without the content or context. Koomen returns again and again to the difference between entity realism vs. constructivism:

Entity Realism = things are real

Constructivism = things agreed upon

Realists ignore context as it is not mapped back to a central curriculum. It also allows for the insult of the human spirit through comparison of outcomes, ratio and market results. For example, NAPLAN uses Item Response Theory, a format that does not allow any direct recall or reference to learning and development. This leads to the situation where a student can ‘improve’ yet remain on the same score. Margaret Wu explains this in her chapter in National Testing in Schools, while Sam Sellar, Greg Thompson and David Rutkowski elaborate on it in The Global Education Race.

For Koomen our decline in these scales comes back to a focus on the market:

Neoliberalism considers content as: self-evident, real, axiomatic, socially constructed and marketable. In a way that supports the status quo.

This leads to conversations with students in regards to points on a scale, rather than aspects of context and development. For example, it is easier in the media to talk about a change in ratios or job rates, rather than the collapse in the car industry and what impact that has for the state. This allows for the rise of education conferences based around data with little reference to the local context.

The answer Koomen closes with is to work together though associations to make systemic change.