What Parents Need to Know About NAPLAN

Dean Schmid for mywebtutor.com.au

Posted on 22 June 2016

What Parents Need to Know About NAPLAN

The Panic the NAPLAN Tests Create

I vaguely remember my year 9 NAPLAN test. It was 2008, the first year that the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority sent out their thick books of stapled paper, to a millions or so students in Years 3,5,7 and 9. We were told that we were going to sit a test to determine the, literacy and numeracy, abilities of the country. We had never heard of this test, but we were about to. In the weeks leading up to it, it was all anyone could talk about, and school, as we knew it, was put on hold.

I went to a small private school, in a town with the nation’s highest unemployment rate. The school struggled to fill classes. It was always battling to cover its expensive, with the few students it could draw away from the much large public schools. From the get go, we were told by the principle herself that this NAPLAN was serious business. The braver teachers confided in us; there was going to be a big push to do well in this test. They told us it wasn’t that important, and we shouldn’t stress, but in the same breath, said we were a prestigious school, and we should rank best in the region. I can understand why they put us under so much pressure. If enrolments would increase then maybe we would get brick classrooms, instead of the demountable, which were freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer.

I have forgotten nearly everything about my high school days, but I still remember the panic NAPLAN brought to my placid year 9 classroom. Notes were sent home when students did not take the practice sessions seriously enough, parents were encouraged to exclude certain students from the test, and there were compulsory afterschool sessions, for students who might not test well.

NAPLAN will not Affect your Child’s Future

If you have a child about to sit a NAPLAN test, I would strongly encourage you to think carefully about your approach. Schools would have you believe that it is the most important paper to ever find its way across your child’s desk. In truth, NAPLAN will have no effect on your child’s future.

What is Done with the Results

The results are published on the Myschool website https://www.myschool.edu.au/, which compares just over 10,000 schools in the country, using the ICSEA – An index that takes socio cultural differences into account-. The whole ordeal cost about $100 million, and after NAPLAN has run its course we have a national database that publicly displays the results of every school in the country.

The test is useful. It gives parents important information to help choose a school for child, and government departments can see which schools need the most help. The purpose of the test has always been transparency.  According to their website, ‘The National Assessment Program (NAP) is the measure through which governments, education authorities, schools and the community can determine whether or not young Australians are meeting important educational outcomes.’ I think we can all agree this is important information to have.

The Problem with NAPLAN

The irony is that, the benefits of NAPLAN create the problems. The readily available information that allows parents to better choose a school, is gathered at the extent, of the wellbeing, of their children. NAPLAN is placing unnecessary pressure on student as early as grade 3. The school has a financial incentive to do well in these tests. It is marketing, which costs them very little, and all they have to do is change the way they teach.

Parents and Citizens Federation President Jason Vials said, recently in an interview with the ABC, ‘The issue we've always had with NAPLAN is that it starts to get used as a measure of how good a school is, or how good a teacher is.’

I experienced this. We were convinced that NAPLAN was ‘the test.’ I mean never before had we had dedicated, daily practice for a test. The teachers were pedantic about it, and all other study was put on hold. It was discussed in assembly. The NAPLAN students had lunch breaks an hour after the rest of the school, no one was allowed near the classrooms when the test was being sat, and it was all over TV. You can imagine our surprise when we learnt, that apart from an extra page in the back of our report cards, this test was of no consequence whatsoever.

All the NAPLAN test really tests is a child’s ability to sit a NAPLAN test. In an attempt to gauge the ability of a million different students, they are told to sit in a room and fill out several multiple choice test, in forty minute blocks, for three days. The tests attempt to determine a child’s competency in a subject, a broad as literature, with 40 multiple choice question. Because such a small aspect of the curriculum is tested, NAPLAN has received criticism for not assessing a student’s achievement or academic ability.

My advice to parents everywhere, as someone who has been through these tests is, reassure you child that the test is not going to shape their future. You need to be the voice of reason, when the school is essentially using your child’s academic results as a marketing strategy. Tell them that the school might go a little crazy, but it will all be over in a week, and you love them very much.

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