Posted on August 8, 2012

Crisis in Aboriginal Children’s Literacy

Josephine Tovey, Sydney Morning Herald, August 8, 2012

About half of all Aboriginal children in New South Wales are at or below minimum standards for reading by the time they reach late primary school, according to a new report.

And there is no evidence attempts to improve literacy among Aboriginal children are actually working, it states.

Aboriginal students’ ability to read and write continues to lag behind non-Aboriginal students despite an extensive range of programs to improve outcomes, according to a report released today by the NSW Auditor-General.

The report also states there “no evidence” of achieving state and national targets to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students unless a range of changes are made to try to turn results around.

“By Year Three around 40 per cent of Aboriginal students are at or below minimum standard for reading. Unfortunately, this is almost triple the rate of non-Aboriginal students,” said the auditor-general, Peter Achterstraat, in a statement.

“By Year Five around 50 per cent of Aboriginal students are at or below the minimum standard,” said.

The report, which analysed state-wide test results used prior to the introduction of NAPLAN, as well as more recent NAPLAN results, found there has been little overall change in literacy results across the board for all students and a continuing gap between the results of Aboriginal and non — Aboriginal students.

Mr Achterstraat acknowledged there are an extensive range of programs that have been developed to try to improve educational outcomes for Aboriginal children, but said the state was failing when it came to making sure the right resources and support reached every child, or to assess the needs of individual students.

“Those individuals most in need should be pinpointed and their progress closely monitored,” he said.

“All Aboriginal students who perform at or below national standards in literacy should be provided with the additional support they need.”

The report also noted that a range of ‘non-school’ factors which contributed to disadvantage needed to be addressed to improve educational outcomes, such as language barriers, lower household income and poor health and nutrition.

In response to the report, the Director-General of Education and Communities, Dr Michele Bruniges, said the government remained committed to achieving state and national targets for closing the gap.

She said two recent initiatives would help tackle problems raised in the report, including the appointment of 50 hands-on ‘Instructional Leaders’ in high-needs schools.

“The department will also continue to develop and implement new systems to improve the tracking, analysis and reporting of student performance to add to our efforts to improve Aboriginal student literacy outcomes,” she said in a letter to Mr Achterstraat.