How are economically disadvantaged communities and schools portrayed in news stories about school results in the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) assessments?

In one case, a news story used the metaphor, ‘punching well above their weight’, when referring to the NAPLAN results of ‘disadvantaged’ schools. This metaphor represents schools in locations of poverty as performing poorly on NAPLAN by implying that any NAPLAN success is unusual or an exceptional variance.

Recent research by Dr Aspa Baroutsis has investigated the use of metaphors in news stories about the NAPLAN performance of schools in locations of poverty in the Australian print media over the last 10 years.

The NAPLAN assessments are a recognised measure that provides feedback to schools and systems about children’s educational outcomes. These NAPLAN data are analysed by the government and reported through the annual NAPLAN National Report, but they are also publicly available on the government’s My School website. Dr Baroutsis said,

“There is generally a media frenzy surrounding the release of the annual NAPLAN report that analyses the performance of all Australian schools. The analysis provides comparative data dating back to 2008, that generates age-based and location-based comparisons. The annual National Report shows the shifts in year level performance across time, as well as across states and territories.”

In the study, Dr Baroutsis focuses on metaphor usage in news stories, particularly those relating to spatial concepts. Metaphors are linguistic devices that imply a figurative interpretation of words or phrases, rather than a literal one. Spatial metaphors were framed using area (where children live and go to school), orientation (direction of NAPLAN progress) or movement (change in NAPLAN progress).

Dr Baroutsis said,

“Most of the examples (50%) were framed through orientation-based metaphors, followed by area (31%) and movement (19%)”.

When asked about the reason for focusing on the reporting of NAPLAN data through spatial metaphors, Dr Baroutsis responded.

“First, the NAPLAN reports are produced annually. Although these are not strictly longitudinal data, they are prone to longitudinal-style comparative analysis such as graphs, ‘league table’ style rankings, infographics and interactive displays where shifts in educational performance, such as improvement or regression, can be easily identified.

“Secondly, in the early years of the National Assessment Program, the analysis focused on comparisons across ‘like schools’ or those with similar demographics. Now, the focus has shifted to comparisons across schools with ‘similar backgrounds’, based on parental occupation and education.

“Both these approaches have a location-based focus and therefore align with my spatial approach to the analysis.”

The study found that spatial metaphors were used consistently in news stories across the 10-year period, in both national newspapers and the daily metropolitan newspapers servicing the states and territories. Metaphors were also used by all author groups including journalists, editors, and option writers.

The video provides a brief overview of the research, along with examples of the metaphors that were used in the news texts. The research is published in the Australian Geographer journal.


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