A Foucauldian and quantitative analysis of NAPLaN, the category 'language background other than English', and English as a second language level.

Creagh, Sue (2013). A Foucauldian and quantitative analysis of NAPLaN, the category 'language background other than English', and English as a second language level. PhD Thesis, School of Education, The University of Queensland.

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Author Creagh, Sue
Thesis Title A Foucauldian and quantitative analysis of NAPLaN, the category 'language background other than English', and English as a second language level.
Formatted title
A Foucauldian and Quantitative Analysis of NAPLaN, the category 'Language Background Other Than English', and English as a Second Language Level
School, Centre or Institute School of Education
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2013
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Robert Lingard
Mark Western
Total pages 263
Total colour pages 2
Total black and white pages 261
Language eng
Subjects 160506 Education Policy
200401 Applied Linguistics and Educational Linguistics
130303 Education Assessment and Evaluation
Formatted abstract
This research project has as its central purpose the exploration of the relationships between the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLaN), the statistical category known as Language Background Other Than English (LBOTE) and English language proficiency, measured using the English as a Second Language (ESL) Bandscales. The Bandscales are an assessment tool, used primarily by ESL teachers to map second (English) language acquisition of ESL students. The research consists of a series of analytical chapters, divided into two parts. The first section draws on the theories of Foucault to analyse the ‘subjectification’ of the migrant ESL learner, since 1947. This is followed by a Foucauldian analysis of the functioning of governmentality and disciplinary power in the contemporary Australian education reform movement, with a specific focus on the LBOTE category. The second part of the thesis consists of a statistical analysis of two NAPLaN datasets sourced from the Queensland education department, Australia. Multiple linear regression is used for each of the statistical analyses. The structure and organisation of the Thesis are supported by a critical realism paradigm; the combination of Foucauldian theoretical analyses and statistical analyses work together to explore deep structural mechanisms, which contribute to the problem being investigated in the research.

In the statistical architecture of the NAPLaN test, there is a category allocated to disaggregate the results of students who have a language background other than English (LBOTE). The definition of this category is that the child or their parent speaks a language other than English, but the category has no capacity to differentiate the group on the basis of English language proficiency. Because of the broad scope of the category definition, average national results suggest that there is no difference in NAPLaN performance between those who are LBOTE and those who are not, though at state/territory level, there is greater variation in performance. These NAPLaN data present strong quantitative arguments that literacy achievement is not impacted by language, suggesting that specific programs of ESL support may be dispensable. Such a policy move is potentially highly consequential for the progress of ESL students who benefit greatly from access to programs which support their academic language development.

The research explores the LBOTE problem through application of a range of analytic lenses. The first of these analyses uses Foucault’s notion of subjectification to explore the contingent factors which have contributed to the subjectification of the migrant ESL learner in Australia. The policy fields of education and migration, in unity with developments in the field of applied linguistics are identified as important contributory and contingent factors, which have historically influenced the various ways in which the ESL learner has been classified across three broad time periods, which coincide with the political ideologies of assimilation, multiculturalism and neoliberalism.

In the second analysis the focus shifts from the ESL learner to the LBOTE category, and draws inspiration from Foucault’s writing on governmentality and disciplinary power. This chapter explores the implications of the LBOTE category for the ESL learner and so charts an expository position which argues that the technologies of government, which have created the NAPLaN test and its associated statistical architecture, are built upon political rationalities which relate to neoliberalism, monolingualism and a model of education which is able to be quantified for the purposes of accountability. Once the political rationalities are mapped, the enmeshment of the LBOTE category within the complexities of the assessment and reporting apparatus is explored. In the final section of the chapter, the consequences of the LBOTE category are presented, through the experiences and voices of school personnel.

The second part of the thesis applies multiple linear regression to explore the association between a range of language background variables and performance on the reading and numeracy domains of the NAPLaN test. The datasets used in the project are from Queensland state schools, and allow two separate but complementary analyses of the problem. The first dataset consists of all students in Queensland state schools in 2010, in years 7 and 9. Whilst this dataset contains a number of indicators of language background, it does not contain ESL language levels. However, this dataset demonstrates an association between language background and NAPLaN performance. The second dataset was collected from a number of Brisbane metropolitan schools and consists of LBOTE students, across years 3, 5, 7 and 9 of the NAPLaN test, for 2010 and 2011. This analysis includes bandscale data and shows a clear relationship between language proficiency level and academic attainment on the NAPLaN test.

The research presents a number of significant and important findings. Firstly, there are recurring patterns of performance associated with visa category, which show that migrant students on skilled, business and education visas are generally performing above average and students on refugee visas are achieving very low average results, which show them to be the most disadvantaged of all students, including Indigenous students. Further, the characteristics of these two groups are very different in terms of their on-arrival language levels. Secondly, test performance is clearly associated with language level, and, for all students with developing English skills, the NAPLaN test is not a test of literacy, but a test of language and the results for these students are thus rendered invalid.

Whilst the field of second language acquisition research has established that there is a relationship between language background and mainstream academic achievement, there is no research of this kind which is able to relate these finding to background characteristics such as visa, nor to levels of English proficiency. This research is thus ground breaking, in its capacity to inform the provision of appropriate educational pedagogy and policy responses for the heterogeneous group of students who are in the process of acquiring academic English. Further, it offers alternative and more locally relevant strategies for identifying ESL learner need, which can better support an Australian education policy target of improved equity of outcome for all Australian students.
Keyword Language background other than English
National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy
English as a second language
English as an additional language/dialect
Multiple regression

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Created: Tue, 19 Nov 2013, 12:38:21 EST by Ms Sue Creagh on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service