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Sydney mum’s mission to prove the education department wrong

A SYDNEY mum has claimed the secretive intelligence test used by the NSW government to determine which children are gifted is seriously flawed after her “far superior” son returned the same mark as his twin sister.

The NSW Department of Education Communities’ Opportunity Class Placement Test (OC Test) is conducted each year across rural and city schools with children competing for just 1200 places in a specialist Year 5 to 6 gifted and talented program.

Competition is fierce, with children who gain entry into the program all but guaranteed a place in a selective high school when they graduate.

The competition for a places has been linked to the boom in coaching colleges across Sydney, with families from cultures who place a high value on education but may not be able to afford to send their children to a private school driving the demand.

Epping mother-of-four Kate Mannix believed her 11-year-old son Jack would be identified by the system as a child with above-average intelligence.

However, she is now convinced the tests are flawed as they favour children who have been coached on how to answer the questions, rather than identifying natural abilities.

Ms Mannix, who has taken the department to court in a bid to obtain the fiercely-guarded set of maths questions, noticed her son’s abilities at an early age, especially in mathematics.

When Jack was in Year 3, Ms Mannix enlisted the University of NSW to test her son become anxious at his bad behaviour, noticing he became “frustrated” and “distressed” and naughty when he was bored.

The results confirmed her suspicions with Jack being assessed as being in the top five per cent of his peers in mathematics.

Six months later, Ms Mannix enrolled Jack to and his twin sister Eleanor sit the 2012 OC Test to gain a place in a gifted class.

After Jack missed out on a place on the program, Ms Mannix decided to prove the department wrong, paying $2000 for the twins to sit the universally-acclaimed abilities test, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children IV.

The WISC-IV test, conducted by an educational psychologist, showed again that that Jack was smarter than his sister, scoring at the top of the “high” range compared with his sister’s score in the “average” range.

Ms Mannix said the department’s assessment that both her children had exactly the same ability in maths was “offensive”.

She also claimed the reliance on a test that she believed favoured children whose parents forced them into daily coaching colleges was unfair to families who could not afford to do so, while also contributing to the commercialisation of education.

Given it was the same contracted company that developed the OC Test was also responsible for the selective high schools tests in Year 6, Ms Mannix said a thousands of genuinely gifted children were being robbed the opportunity to participate in a specialist program by a child who had been coached.

“These tests are a ticket to get into a selective high school or a gifted class and the department would like to suggest they can identify whether your child is smart or not, yet they don’t,” Ms Mannix said.

“One of my kids is brighter than the other, yet these tests say they are the same.

”We always knew my Jack was a clever boy and thought the system would pick that up. It didn’t. Instead, it is rewarding kids who have been to coaching colleges seven days a week and that is wrong.”

She said the OC Test was also flawed by way of its focus on the speed-processing ability of a child, arguing most intelligent children taking longer to solve puzzles due to their need to investigate alternate options.

Ms Mannix, who is vehemently opposed to coaching colleges given they interfere with children’s play and development, has since been fighting the department to access the highly secretive set of questions for the OC Test amid the belief there may have been a mistake in its administration.

Last week, the Civil and Administration Tribunal rejected her GIPA Act request, ruling it was not in the public interest to release the questions given the time and cost it took to develop and its use as a “back-up” should this year’s tests be leaked.

Ironically, the release of the questions was also refused to keep the “keep as much material as possible out of the hands of the coaching colleges”.

The Department’s High Performing Unit Business System’s Office leader Magda Pollack told the Tribunal the OC Test had been designed as IQ tests to measure ability.

The $180,000 test was designed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) over a period of six months, with different questions asked each year.

The questions, formulated in-house at a secure premises in Victoria, were “meticulously” assessed with Victorian students used a guinea pigs before they were rolled out to NSW in tamper-proof packaging and cartons.

The Tribunal heard there was no “back-up” test should the list of questions be leaked with the department instead having to rely on the previous year’s.

“For that reason, the more recent test questions are considered more valuable as a source for a back-up test,” Tribunal Senior Member Geoffrey Walker said.

The Tribunal heard the OC Test measured ability, flushing out the smarter students who could identify a “shortcut” to a problem.

Ms Pollack said it was impossible to know if coaching colleges influenced a child’s result, although admitted it could boost confidence in handling multiple-choice questions.


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