The NAPLAN question: Good or Bad?

My two oldest kids (Years 3 and 5) are doing NAPLAN testing today, tomorrow and Thursday. They are very chilled about it and so am I. So chilled I’m starting to worry. Everyone else seems to be in a spin. I’m not a hand-wringer when it comes to education. My kids go to school, they do their homework (most of the time), they read books. I try to minimize their time on Club Penguin but that’s about it. They seem to be doing fine.

I’m embarrassed to admit I had to Google NAPLAN to see what it meant – it’s the National Assessment Program. It started a few years ago for what I understand were very worthwhile reasons: to identify those students and schools that were falling behind in the basics of reading, writing and numeracy so they could be offered the help they need. Excellent. But my Googling revealed dozens of websites dedicated to helping parents help their kids ‘do better’ on NAPLAN. It’s become an industry.

NAPLAN results are being used by private, independent, and selective state schools to pick the best and the brightest. I know. I’ve sat in interviews with my son where his personal NAPLAN results were brought out.

When my son first did NAPLAN testing in 2009, no one bothered much about it. Parents barely knew what day it was on. Now it’s a big thing. I heard of a woman cancelling netball practice and postponing a birthday party so her eight year old will be ‘fresh, for NAPLAN.’

I’m happy for my kids to sit the tests, grateful to live in a society where education matters but at our place, it’s business as usual.

Parenting expert and lecturer at the University of Wollongong, Justin Coulson doesn’t want his kids sitting the NAPLAN test, he writes in the SMH:

Justin Coulson

❏ NAPLAN will not tell us anything about student achievement. Answers are graded by a computer. Written answers are graded by ”independent examiners” who subjectively review hundreds of responses.

❏ NAPLAN tells us nothing about teacher effectiveness. Great teachers create a positive environment and promote curiosity, a love of learning, participation, co-operation and leadership. NAPLAN does not tell us about these things.

❏ NAPLAN won’t improve your child’s literacy, despite claims to the contrary. Teaching children to colour in bubbles does not teach kids to do anything but shade bubbles. Children become literate and engaged in learning when reading is for reading’s sake and writing is meaningful to the person doing the writing. NAPLAN reading and writing offers little intrinsic meaning to anyone, particularly the student.

The national body that designs the NAPLAN tests on behalf of the Government, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) says the tests are about knowledge and information, a diagnostic tool for schools, parents and authorities to see how children are developing in the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. The tests are neither pass nor fail, but help direct resources to students who may need an extra helping hand. The literacy and numeracy scores are combined with the results of statistically similar institutions and to the national average and available to view on the My School website.

Maralyn Parker is an education columnist for The Daily Telegraph, author and former teacher, who has worked in primary and secondary schools in Australia, Africa and England. She spoke to Richard Aedy on Life Matters this morning about why she thinks NAPLAN not helpful to parents. You can listen to the podcast here.

What do you think, is NAPLAN a good idea?