A little thing called NAPLAN

This week was NAPLAN.  For those who live in the world outside of nationwide standardised testing, NAPLAN is the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. Australian students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 sat through 5 tests over 3 days.  According to the body that organises the testing, ACARA, “NAPLAN tests the sorts of skills that are essential for every child to progress through school and life, such as reading, writing, spelling and numeracy.”

Now, I must be up front in my belief about NAPLAN: I don’t hold it in particularly high regard.  While I understand its use in making broad comparisons across schools, states and school systems, due to the way it has developed the testing places unnecessary strain on individual students. Media hype has confused the purpose of NAPLAN, portraying it as a summative rather than formative assessment.  These tests are not ends in themselves; they should not be used to denigrate schools or to make claims about what some educators are failing to do for their students.  Rather, these tests should be used by states, schools and other educators to examine the learning that is taking place within their locus of control.

If a school finds that its students have excelled in a particular skill, then it should celebrate that success and be proud of what it is achieving.  If, on the other hand, results show that students have been broadly unable to apply another skill, then it is indicative of what more needs to be done, of an area of learning that may have been neglected.  But since learning does not end with NAPLAN, such results should only be used to provide direction in further teaching and learning, not to indicate failure.

What would be serious is if over time, the testing shows a school/state to be continually performing poorly on the same skills; that is to say, if they have not learned from prior mistakes. And that is what we should all pay attention to.