More resources not more tests needed for classrooms


Tuesday 31 Jan 2017

A Charles Sturt University (CSU) paediatric speech pathologist argues more resources rather than a new test is the key to helping Australian school children with difficulties in phonics and reading.

The federal government is moving towards introducing a nation-wide phonics assessment, along with a numeracy check for Year 1 students.

Associate lecturer at CSU's School of Community Health, Ms Gemma Mirtschin has worked with children in the early intervention and schools sectors for many years.

"Absolutely, speech difficulties, difficulties with phonics and phonological awareness, impact on a child's ability to develop school ready literacy skills," Ms Mirtschin said.

"Children who have difficulties with speech and language are more likely to have difficulties developing the skills necessary to read and write and engage fully within a mainstream classroom.

"A number of other factors can also contribute to a child's ability to learn, which I think are important for us to consider when we think about how we can holisticallysupport children to succeed at school.  

"Factors such as social and emotional well-being, receiving adequate sleep, presence and history of hearing impairments, cultural background, and safety and stability in the home environment all contribute to how well a child can access the curriculum and succeed at school."

But Ms Mirtschin believes funding for more support staff, allied health services within the school and expert consultation is what's needed.

"I have some reservations about the cost versus benefit of a national assessment schedule such as the one proposed.

"Firstly teachers need to be better supported to identify children at risk or those who may require some support.

"I think schools need to be better supported financially to provide resources for those children in need.

"Assessing all, for the benefit of some, or none, seems to be a very expensive and at times, poses many ethical concerns.

"It is problematic if we are devoting time and significant funds to identify children who are struggling, if we are unable to provide the targeted follow-up support they require. 

"If teachers and schools are better equipped to support students who are at risk or struggling, then I believe we will see greater outcomes for all students," Ms Mirtschin said.


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Ms Gemma Mirtschin is an associate lecturer in speech pathology in the School of Community Health at CSU in Albury-Wodonga.