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Assessing the field: Students and teachers of writing in high-stakes literacy testing in Australia

Emily Frawley (The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Larissa McLean Davies (The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

English Teaching: Practice & Critique

ISSN: 1175-8708

Article publication date: 7 September 2015




The purpose of this paper is to explore the interface between high-stakes testing, disciplinary knowledge and teachers’ pedagogy in English. The most prevalent standardized assessment form in the current Australian context is the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) undertaken each year by students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in all Australian States and Territories. Understood in the context of the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) (Sahlberg, 2011, pp. 100-101) – the NAPLAN tests serve as a bi-partisan governmental response to a perceived need to improve the quality of teachers and schools in Australia.


The authors draw on the key sociological constructs of Pierre Bourdieu (1995) to analyze the ways in which the writing component of the suite of NAPLAN tests serves to legitimize and idealize particular kinds of writing, writers and teachers of writing.


The authors suggest that in the absence of current literacy policy and curriculum instability, this national test shapes the literacy field, influencing the direction of writing practices and pedagogy, and, therefore, subject English itself, in Australian classrooms.


This assessment intervention is considered in the context of the history of writing, and addresses accordingly fundamental questions concerning the changing nature of the writing/writerly field, the impact of assessment on teachers’ conceptions of disciplinarity and pedagogical content knowledge and students’ experiences of writing and thinking in subject English.



Frawley, E. and McLean Davies, L. (2015), "Assessing the field: Students and teachers of writing in high-stakes literacy testing in Australia", English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 83-99.



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