NAPLAN is no plan

If we are talking education, we might as well start with the elephant in the room; in thousands of classrooms across the country actually.  This is the beast that is NAPLAN.  This week students around Australia will be subjected to this supposed guide to the literacy and numeracy ability of students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9.  What a load of bollocks.  As a teacher and a parent I am more convinced than ever that NAPLAN is a complete waste of time.  NAPLAN tells us which kids have the ability to do NAPLAN well and that’s about it and, even then, there is fair chance that many of them have simply guessed their way through any multiple choice components.

 The fact of the matter is that NAPLAN has schools running scared.  So worried about what their NAPLAN data will say, school administrators have thrown all logic and common sense out the window (not to mention the curriculum) in an effort to train students in the art of passing this test.  This whole exercise has become nothing more than a pissing contest between school administrators with little regard to what is really in the best interests of students.  NAPLAN means nothing to students.  For them, it is a pointless distraction that has no real relevance to what they are learning, and should be learning, in the classroom.  It is simply a mechanism by which school prinicpals and teachers can espouse their own “credentials” and sell themselves to the community as “leaders” and “innovators” whose “passion” for teaching has carried these students to success. Give me a break. Isn’t it interesting though when NAPLAN results are not so good, the same people are quick to blame the socio-economic circumstances of the community, the (lack of) effort/support from parents or the easiest targets of all – the students themselves. These self-proclaimed superstars of the profession are noticeable in their silence when the NAPLAN results data – which come so long after the tests are held as to have no real value at all – shows that their school has suddenly plummeted down what are nothing more than – despite claims to the contrary by the Government – league tables ranking the “quality” of schools based purely on NAPLAN outcomes.  What a sad state of affairs for education in Australia.

 Such is the pressure to achieve in NAPLAN, schools are taking more and more drastic measures.  One secondary school I know of (and I’m sure there are plenty of others) suspended the entire Year 9 English curriculum for two weeks, opting instead for two weeks of NAPLAN practice tests designed not to improve numeracy and literacy skills amongst students, but simply to achieve a better result on the NAPLAN test.  It is, pure and simple, a marketing exercise with schools so focussed on securing a spot near the head of the table that nothing else matters, including the best interests of the students.  Subjecting students to an endless array of practice tests is counter-productive because they are well and truly “over it” by the time the real test comes around and have no real desire to take the test seriously – and nor should they.  Those students who excel get used by the school to sell how “great” the school is with regard to the teaching programs and the people who implement them, but the student gets very little tangible benefit from “succeeding” in the test. The reality is that such a student would probably have secured the exact same result regardless of which school they are attending. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that a student who blitzes the literacy or numeracy component of the NAPLAN testing regime will actually achieve great results where it matters, in the classroom and on subsequently on their report cards. There have been countless examples of students who rank somewhere near the top of the NAPLAN tree yet don’t achieve a passing grade in English or other subjects.  Likewise, students excelling in class work often perform poorly in NAPLAN and are therefore diagnosed as having poor literacy and/or numeracy skills when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course, the disruptions to curriculum delivery has a significant impact on the continuity of learning within the classroom and the negative impact on the development of the literacy and numeracy skills of students outweigh any possible benefit that NAPLAN could bring.  But, of course, that doesn’t matter because real education outcomes – that is, results from a diverse range of assessment instruments across a wide range of contexts – are not published in newspapers and online, so who cares?   Teachers should care, parents should care and anybody interested in ensuring our schools are delivering content and measuring outcomes in a way that is fair, logical and valuable should care.  There is so much evidence to suggest that this kind of testing does not improve overall academic outcomes, yet we persist.

The sooner schools stand up and say enough is enough and move the focus away from NAPLAN and back to real teaching, learning and assessment that caters for the needs and styles of all students, the better our educational outcomes will be.

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