NAPLAN NEEDS A RETHINK

THINK AGAIN ABOUT NAPLAN

With the release of the 2016 NAPLAN results, education again enters a lengthy period of self-examination and study of outcomes. With results released a prolonged period of data analysis now commences. Australian, State and Territory level results will be dissected, followed by a examination of individual student performance at school level. Everything else about education may mark time, allowing this exercise to be pursued without interruption.

Every year, States and Territories are offered plaudits or brickbats depending on results. School results are minutely analysed with the publication of results online at the “My Schools” website.

By the beginning of 2017 this year’s study will be exhausted. Then it will be time to prepare for the May tests. Students in the testing years (three, five, seven and nine) will be subjected to trial testing programs aimed at getting them ready for the tests in May.

Of course schools are advised not to go overboard when it comes to readiness for testing. However, with so much attaching to NAPLAN outcomes, this advice is rarely heeded. In actual fact, systems want their schools to do well so they compare favourably with their intra-territory and interstate counterparts. Systems also seek and value kudos based on test results.

The costs of saturating Australia’s educational system with NAPLAN must be mind-boggling. It’s probably not an overstatement to suggest that since 2008, when universal testing was introduced, hundred of millions of dollars have been poured into the program.

A major flaw is the interpretation of NAPLAN’s importance. The tests measure narrowly defined academic competencies of four student groups, at the same time each year. The rest of the year and the successes of all students seem to count for little. This testing with its academic focus seems to imply that holistic education is of little consequence. Teacher quality is spoken of in terms of teachers having the ability to prepare children for these tests. There should be more to quality education than fixation on testing regimes.

What of the students

I don’t know if anybody has thought to ask students what they think about this program. If they were to be asked, there might be some interesting, enlightening and eye-opening responses. I believe there would be little appreciation of the weeks and months of pre-test preparation many of them have to endure. A student forum on this program is well worth considering. Whether notice would be taken of their viewpoint is altogether another matter.

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