“I haven’t allowed my children to sit for NAPLAN, and won’t be in the future either.”

saying no to NAPLAN

If you have a school aged child, especially one who has reached grades three, five, or nine, you’ll know all about NAPLAN.

Even if your child hasn’t reached this point, it’s worth being aware of what these tests are supposed to be used for (it differs quite a lot from what they’re actually used for), how children are prepared for them, and most importantly, whether you should be allowing your children to sit them.

NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) is a national standardised testing of years three, five, and nine students in the areas of literacy and numeracy, and is intended to rank the performance of individual schools. The data is published on the government’s My Schools website, which is essentially one epic pissing contest.

Do kids and parents need to harden up over NAPLAN? The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss…

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Naturally, the pressure on schools to perform well in these tests is intense. This is where the testing becomes controversial, because the focus in these year levels becomes performing well on the test, which is held in all schools on same day.

Rather than regular teaching and learning, these kids are being coached on how to do well on this particular test, which, as pointed out by Les Perelman, a retired professor from MIT University in the United States recently, isn’t a good thing.

Having assessed the writing component of the test, Perelman was left baffled, saying it’s one of the strangest tests he’s ever seen. According to Perelman, the NAPLAN writing tests measures “the wrong things” such as use of big words (regardless of correct context) rather than whether the children can spell simple words correctly or communicate their ideas effectively.

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Holly and Andrew take on Naplan. Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo try their hands at some Year 3 and 5 NAPLAN questions, on our podcast for imperfect parents. Post continues after audio.

This is damning, but it isn’t the whole reason I haven’t allowed my children to sit the test, and won’t be in the future either. I wouldn’t have such an issue with NAPLAN (despite the terrible marking system) if it was simply a matter of the kids sitting the test and never hearing about it again (as it should be because it’s supposed to be data for the government).

Instead, they face an anxious wait for their results which are handed back to them at school.

As far as I’m concerned, the students should never see these results. I was immediately put off when I heard parents anxiously questioning their kids after school as to whether they got their results back or not.

See, the thing about pressure is it has a trickle-down effect. In the case of NAPLAN, the schools are pressured by the government to perform well, so the principals put the pressure on the teachers to make sure the children are well prepared for the test, and then the teachers (and the parents) put the pressure on the children to learn the material they will need to perform well. So what you end up with are young children with their parents, teachers, principals, and the government all on their backs with one message: do well.

When I questioned the practice of returning results to children during a parent-teacher evening this year, I was informed that the children will need their (presumably spectacular) NAPLAN results for interviews for secondary schools. I don’t know if this practice is widespread or whether it is a symptom of Brisbane’s private school culture, but it’s disturbing. Don’t we tell HSC (and interstate equivalent) students every year that the rank they’re given at the end of the year doesn’t determine their worth?

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And yet here we are, basically telling eight and eleven year olds that their entry to a “good school” relies on their performance on one single day. That’s far harsher than the pressure on year 12s; at least their final score is based on coursework completed throughout the entire year, not just one exam.

Remember that all children are different, and they all have their own gifts and talents. They are not the sum of their literacy and numeracy skills. A test cannot determine how funny, or compassionate, or kind your child is; and it can’t see how they help their struggling classmate or how they invite the lonely child in the playground to join in their game. Their worth cannot be measured by an inaccurate (at best), robotically graded, national standardised test.

Finally, by the same token a school cannot be measured by its literacy and numeracy performance. If you’re in the stage of looking for a school to send your child to, look beyond those numbers and colours on the My Schools page.

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