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?

6 thoughts on “A Simmering NAPLAN Rage”

  1. A great post Melanie – i am looking at it from a different point of view with my eldest child doing NAPLAN for tomorrow. I have been the “go to” person for NAPLAN data analysis in my region – as a mathematician I love it! As a mathematician I want to see the inferences I can make from the data to identify any areas that we need to address – and it is useful in this way. The data always backs up teachers intuition in my experience – and it is nice to have that backup – particularly if it leads to more money! Plus I like quantitate data

    But as a human….. I hate that way kids who struggle to read the papers are forced to undertake these tests – why do we subject them to such torture? There is no need – teachers already know what the issues are – and are working to address them . It always seems cruel to me.

    As a father – my son loves doing tests – particularly where he knows how he goes. In fact he asks to do practice ones – really! Thus I want to give him every opportunity to do as well as he can – hence he went to bed early tonight after practicing for NAPLAN (well if you call coming home and sitting down to continue writing his series of children’s books practice!)

    I will be interested to see his results – he has been doing practice NAPLAN for the last few weeks – he told me about his ‘careless’ errors today – I don’t need the report from the government to tell me what my son knows. But do some people?

    1. Thank you for commenting, Simon. I love the differing perspectives of mathematician, human and father… quite lovely. Do you know, I actually have no problem with diagnostic testing at all (and I do this in all sorts of different ways with my class). I also love data… I love to think about what I know about the data and what it is telling me. It’s not really NAPLAN per se that ignites my rage. It’s that this data is given precedence and that some parents have bought the idea that it is a measure of school/teacher performance or of a child’s intelligence.

      I hope your son goes well tomorrow!


    1. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I hope the PM & Minister Garrett did read your poem and take it to heart. I think they mean well.

  2. Yes, please, educators come up with a better measure because in the absence of a better measure this is all we have.

    1. Thank you for commenting. I appreciate you taking the time. There is a lot of data already in schools about teaching & learning so I don’t believe NAPLAN is all we have. It just seems to be all that’s valued, at least in the media. NAPLAN data itself isn’t even bad. It’s how it is used and misused that is problematic. When the goal of a school is to improve its NAPLAN results rather than to improve student learning and to improve teaching, something has gone awry.

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