NAPLAN always leaves a lingering bitter after taste…

This week, every school across Australia will administer the NAPLAN Literacy and Numeracy tests to students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Initially, the test was designed to be a diagnostic test for schools to identify strengths and weaknesses. Such identification would allow schools to focus on improving particular skills. Sounds great right! Parents would be given a detailed report, access to some resources to help their children at home. Students would be able to see at a glance, where their strengths and weaknesses are, in key areas such as writing, language conventions, grammar, reading, spelling and numeracy.

Remember for a moment that this is a diagnostic test. So who should benefit from a diagnostic test? Students, teachers and parents. A couple of years ago, the federal government, in its quest to make schools “better performing” and students “improve their literacy and numeracy” and of course, my favourite “make teachers more accountable” decided to publish the diagnostic test results. Publish them on a website.

Essentially, if a school’s results are highlighted a dark green, then they are significantly above the state average, light green indicates above state average, no highlighting indicates on state average, light red indicates below state average and dark red indicates significantly below state average. The data that schools receive is quite a comprehensive report. The data that appears on the website is a table. Yes, these results appear as highlighted colours in a table.

Now, we are in a situation where many schools are now forced teach to the test as the pressure that is placed on the principals by bureaucrats and parents is enormous. This has been well documented in the mainstream media. This has also been documented widely in my PLN. I am lucky in that my principal has not given us the direction to teach to the test. She has trusted my judgement as a coordinator and in my leadership of the department. For this, I am grateful. Our results are the magic green colour that appear on the MySchool website. That’s one website I would advocate should be blocked (and I’m not a fan of blocking websites) I know that I am one of the very lucky coordinators out there. I also know our students are lucky.

No – we don’t spend a whole term and a bit teaching persuasive writing to our students, until they can take persuasive writing no more.

No – we don’t make them do three weeks of practice NAPLAN tests under examination conditions, which I am led to believe takes place in many schools across the country.

We do show them a past paper and practice a couple of questions – because in my experience, the questions can be convoluted and I would never send a student into any test with no idea of what they are about to undertake. That is just cruel. Particularly if your form of assessment is nothing like the NAPLAN test.

I have read reports where some schools ask the weakest students to remain at home on the day of the tests, so that their results can be skewed.

This reminds me so much of what governments in the UK and the USA have done with National Testing. The test now misses the mark and in my view is invalid. The test is no longer diagnostic.

I heard one school principal on Adam Spencer’s morning breakfast program (Sydney ABC 702) suggest that it’s okay to prepare for the test as you would for the HSC. She argued that schools teach to the HSC.  To the people out there who are now suggesting that NAPLAN is the same type of test as the HSC, I have this very simple message for you.

It isn’t. The HSC is made up of assessment tasks at school and the examination at the conclusion of their studies. It is not a diagnostic test. We don’t take the HSC data and do anything for that cohort once they have left school. Arguing that point shows me just how out of touch and just how little some of our leaders actually know about testing. This worries me.

Now… how to explain this in terms that our federal education minister can understand…

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About acoure

English Coordinator and English teacher in Sydney. Believes in the power of education. Passionate about pedagogy, how students learn, curriculum design and learning spaces. I am keenly interested in finding out more about how teachers have adapted their pedagogy in a 1:1 environment. I am also eternally grateful for the inspirational educators I worked with in my formative years of teaching. They opened my eyes to the power of what a deep understanding of pedagogy can do to enhance the learning opportunities for students.
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