This opinion piece was published in the NT Suns Newspapers on April 30 2019, under the title NAPLAN no perfect plan.
As students and teachers head into term two, it is with the realisation that the 2019 NAPLAN program is only days away. The tests start in 14 days. The 2019 tests in literacy and numeracy will take place from Tuesday May 14 to Thursday May 16, with Friday May 17 a catch up day.
NAPLAN tests, introduced in 2008, will be undertaken by all year 3, 5, 7, and 9 year Australian students for the twelfth time this year. The ‘all’ is advised because parents have the option of withdrawing their children from the program. There may also be other circumstances leading to students not sitting these tests.
Of all our national educational programs, NAPLAN has probably survived the longest. It is also the one area of national compulsion that is the most misinterpreted and misunderstood of all mandated school requirements.
When introduced, NAPLAN tests were proposed as providing an opportunity for snapshot awareness of student progress at a particular point in time. That initial focus quickly expanded, with systems, schools and students now being compared with each other. They are used by some schools when advertising for students.
The whole process is burdensome, in both time and cost. When tests are completed in May, analysis begins. Wave after wave of data is developed in both minute and voluminous detail. Results are rolled out within systems, to schools, students and parents. That continues during the following months, ceasing a few short weeks before the next round of tests are due.
‘Data’ is always the prime subject on the agendas of most educational meetings at both system and school level. The major subject when considering data, is NAPLAN.
Program costs are mind-boggling. Dr Justin Coulson a psychology researcher conservatively estimated that the 2015 program cost $100 million. Multiplied by the twelve years NAPLAN as been a testing regime would put its cumulative cost well above a billion dollars.
Costs of maintaining the ‘My Schools’ website, created for the prime purpose of sharing this testing data, needs to be added. Federal Budget Estimates of 2013-14 cited the website cost within a range of $700,000 to $1.5 million a year. With annual add ons to the site, this would not have become any cheaper with the passing of years.
If the salary costs of teachers and curriculum specialists pre-occupied with the program were added, NAPLAN expenditure would be stratospheric. Education first and foremost should be for children. Testing should support students, not sacrifice them and their schools on the NAPLAN altar.