A Simmering NAPLAN Rage

I have no idea how this post will end. I am not even sure whether I should post it. I do know that a rage is simmering within me and it has to do with the week ahead.

It’s NAPLAN Week.

It says so on the front sign at school. It says so in the Sydney Morning Herald. It says so in The Australian, The Age, The Times and on Channel Seven! It says so. It says so in the supermarket aisles, where lurid red signs screech ‘Essential School Supplies’, appealing to my mother guilt, warning that my lack of purchase will consign my children to scrapheap of  educational failure.

It’s NAPLAN Week.

It says so in the school yard and in the coffee shops where different mums and dads compare “My School” to “Others” and declare hopes for this year’s performance compared to last; where some boast of the prep that’s been undertaken and others outline the study regimen in the lead up to this week.

This NAPLAN week.

It whispers to me on Twitter where stories are posted making generalisations about the misuse of data or worse still revealing the breathtaking inequity of a system that demands disabled children in ‘special schools’ sit the same test as, and be measured against those in ‘elite, selective schools’. I want to write to that school this week, this NAPLAN week. I want to write and say “You are amazing! You do, every day, what I could never do. You are the champions of education!”

But I want to write to you too, whoever you are. I want to write and implore you to reconsider the value we place on this week. Can we reconsider the value we give to high stakes testing when we say we will plan for and implement effective teaching and learning by introducing a series of practice NAPLAN tests? Can we reconsider the value we place on learning when we suspend it for weeks to prepare for tests? Can we reconsider the value we place on children when we speak of them relative to state or national averages?

I am sure my rage will subside as the week does. The tests will come and go. I’ll read more stories about vitamins to improve brain function during the tests and about stress toys which can be bought for those nervous ones amongst us. I will no doubt read more stories which pit systems of education against each other. But a question still nags. Can we please, as Australian educators find and use more meaningful data about student learning so that standardised test results are no longer publicly perceived as the sole indicators of school performance and of children’s intelligence?