A teacher writes: “Parents don't need to panic, six-year-olds are tested all the time.”

Today news broke that under a federal government proposal, all Year One students are expected to undergo national tests in reading and writing.

As a former primary school teacher, there is no doubt that something needs to be done about “stagnating” or “declining” learning standards in Australian schools.

But is testing six-year-olds the way to do this?

Minister for Education And Training Simon Birmingham believes so. When explaining why primary schools need this testing on the Today Show this morning, he said, “We know from the existing NAPLAN that around one in 20 children are not meeting the minimum literacy standards or skill sets when they get to that point.

“So it’s essential that we ensure children in those first few years of schooling are getting the extra help they need, if they’re falling behind, if they’re not responding appropriately to the type of teaching practices used.”

As someone who taught across Kindergarten to Year Six for three years in a public school well below the national average in Sydney’s outer West, I too agree that something needs to be done. But the panic around the idea of ‘national tests’ put simply, is completely overblown and unnecessary.

When the words ‘national tests’ are thrown around, our minds immediately jump to NAPLAN. We picture reams and reams of paper filled with questions and tiny little circles ready for shading. We see nervous students completing practice tests in their classrooms and studying past papers at home in preparation. We watch them wait for results to be sent home and the analysis of where your child sits against everyone else in their cohort.

"As someone who taught across Kindergarten to Year Six for three years in a public school well below the national average, I too agree that something needs to be done." (Image: Getty)

'What is there to test at that age?' we all ask.

'It's stressful enough as it is,' we all scream.

'Let kids be kids," we all roar.

The thing is the testing that Birmingham speaks of is not like NAPLAN. It's no where near close. It's not anything new. In fact, it's not anything that teachers aren't already doing. Teachers are constantly assessing students all the time whether their pupils realise it or not. At the end of the day, teaching and learning is a cycle of us showing students how to do something, then asking them to do it on their own.

Birmingham reiterates this when he explained, "This is not a test, this is a in-school, in-classroom skills check that won't be publicly reported or anything like that that relates to NAPLAN, but will give teachers, principals and parents a consistent platform to say: is my child, is my student actually meeting the type of standards we would expect after around 18 months or so at school?”


What this means is that fundamentally, not a lot will change. Students, Year One included, will continue to go to school, will continue to learn and will continue to be tested, whether that be informally (in the case of these new proposals) or formally (in the case of NAPLAN).

LISTEN: Dear parents, this is everything teachers want you to know (post continues after audio...)

So for example, it will be a case of a classroom teacher sitting down in a one-to-one format with a list of words and sounds and numbers that the child will read back to the teacher. It's simple and exactly what many schools, the one I taught at included, are already doing.

Birmingham continued, "We are wanting to make sure that in every school in every classroom every child gets the chance to be proven as meeting the type of standards of learning you’d expect, so they’ve got those foundational building blocks of literacy and numeracy upon which so much of the rest of their schooling success depends."

The aim of this new proposal is to identify which children are having problems and then make sure we're funnelling support and funding to those students who need it most so that we can begin to lift the national average.

If it takes teachers ticking off a few more checklists in the classroom and asking a few more students some questions? There's absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to that.