NAPLAN – Future or Folly?

The NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) was introduced in Australia in 2008. Students are tested in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in reading, writing, spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary and maths.

Criticism of NAPLAN

In the 15 years since its launch, NAPLAN has faced a raft of criticism from both the public, including parents, teachers and bureaucratic education experts on both sides of parliament. Having had personal experience of NAPLAN, both as a parent and a teacher, I have found it to be problematic, and frankly, just another piece of paper that gets looked at once and then put in a drawer. In fact both my children were visibly upset when they received their results if they weren’t at the average level for their age group. Furthermore, neither received any extra help from the school or their teachers to correct any of their skill deficiencies. To me, and many other parents and teachers at my children’s school, it seemed that NAPLAN was just another political point-scoring exercise.

There are things that parents and students can do, but first, let’s explore the criticisms of NAPLAN in more detail:

1. Narrow focus: Critics argue that NAPLAN focuses too narrowly on literacy and numeracy skills, neglecting other important areas such as creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. The test does not provide a comprehensive view of a student’s learning, and can be overly stressful for some students.

2. Teaching to the test: Some educators have expressed concerns that teachers are being pressured to teach to the test, rather than providing a broad and engaging curriculum that meets the needs of all students. This can lead to a narrowing of the curriculum and an emphasis on rote learning.

3. Standardisation: NAPLAN tests are standardised across the country, which means that the test may not take into account local contexts, languages, and cultures. This can lead to unfair results for some students which further impedes their academic progress. This is particularly true for Indigenous Australian students who are often doubly disadvantaged, because – A: teachers of Indigenous students are often young and inexperienced, B: Rural and remote schools where many Indigenous students live have frequent and high levels of staff turnover, and C: Indigenous students come from a point of disadvantage due to years of government neglect resulting in failed investment in education for these students .

4. Stigmatisation: The publication of NAPLAN results in league tables can lead to stigmatisation of schools and students who do not perform well. This can have negative effects on the morale of students and teachers, and can lead to a narrowing of the curriculum in some schools.

5. Limited scope: NAPLAN only tests literacy and numeracy skills, and does not take into account other important skills such as creativity, social and emotional learning, and physical education. This can lead to an incomplete picture of a student’s overall development.

6. Stress and anxiety: The pressure of NAPLAN testing can be stressful for some students, and can lead to anxiety and other negative emotional reactions. This can be particularly true for students who struggle with literacy and numeracy skills. The test is subjective and the results susceptible to how a student feels on the day they take their test and not their overall skill ability. Researchers Shafiq ur Rehman, Erum Javed and Muhammad Abiodullah, in their 2021 research paper, Effects of Test Anxiety on Academic Achievement at Secondary School Level in Lahore, found that “Test anxiety had moderate negative correlation with academic achievement at secondary school level.” Their findings also correlate with numerous other studies that found that females had higher test anxiety than males: Chambers & Schreiber, (2004); Peng and Hall, (1995); Boardman (2006) Thompson and Cunningham; (2000).

7. Lack of differentiation: NAPLAN tests are not differentiated for students with disabilities or students who are non-native English speakers. This can lead to unfair results for these students and can lead to a lack of appropriate support for their learning needs.

So what can parents do about NAPLAN?

There have been increasingly frequent reports of parents keeping their children home on NAPLAN testing day. Some students (mostly in years 7 and 9) have reported that they put their pencil down and sit quietly for the test duration. Resistance looks different for everyone.

Isn’t it time to scrap NAPLAN?

There are more appropriate and equitable ways to test a child’s learning skills and knowledge. Clearly the focus should be on the whole child, rather than just a narrow focus on academic skills, assessed on two days, every two years. Teachers are overworked and struggling and leaving the profession in droves. Surely, removing the unnecessary over-testing of our students will go a long way to improving the workload and stress levels of society’s most valuable workers?

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