My problem with the NAPLAN tests
Where to send your child to school? With my two young sons approaching primary age and a multitude of themed kids’ birthday parties to attend in the lead up, this is the most common topic of conversation amongst all the parents.
Some parents are anxious about it, others take it more in their stride but they’re all talking about it.
At first I wasn’t too interested, in fact, I avoided the conversations. I thought them unnecessary. Yes I want a good school for my kids but it’s not the end of the world if it’s not perfect first time. Growing up I spent many years travelling the globe with my parents, and as such, I attended a vast array of primary and secondary schools. I can honestly say that at no point in my life have I felt that the regular changing of schools impacted adversely on my education. It was exciting, varied and helped to broaden my interests.
I suppose because of that background, the choice of school has never been too important to me. I’ve always been of the opinion that if a school doesn’t suit you, don’t stress it and go someplace else.
Recently though, I’ve joined in on some of the parents’ conversations and started to understand what all the fuss is about.
There are many choices and as some of them pointed out, tools such as the new myschool site to aid the decision process.
I think perhaps that’s where all the fuss and stress begins.
Myschool seems like a great idea – a one stop site that allows a user to search the profiles of thousands of Australian schools.
I decided to check it out and that’s when I discovered the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). What is this thing and why does it appear to be the most noticeable piece of information on myschool profiles?
The NAPLAN website says that the tests are used to identify whether all students have the literacy and numeracy skills and knowledge that provide the critical foundation for other learning and for their productive and rewarding participation in the community. I see nothing wrong in that – certainly on a day to day basis, no one will argue that literacy and numeracy skills are essential and it’s vital that our children develop them sufficiently. But why report these results under each schools profile on myschool?
NAPLAN consists of four tests in the domains of Reading, Writing, Language Conventions (Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation) and Numeracy but as we all know, schools teach a great deal more than just this. What about the arts, music, science, history and geography, languages?
Highlighting a schools NAPLAN performances is not an indication of a school’s ability to meet your child’s needs.
Not a wonder there has been outrage about disclosing this information.
Earlier this year the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (ASPA) released results surveying 659 teaching professionals and the impact of the publication of the myschool NAPLAN data. The survey discovered many principles were making major changes to accommodate NAPLAN and to improve their schools performance in the tests. More than half reported that they were increasing the classroom time that students devoted specifically to literacy and numeracy and two-thirds reported increased time spent on NAPLAN test preparation.
That can’t be good and not a wonder that many teachers feel that the publication of NAPLAN data reduces the ability of schools to engage students with a broad curriculum.
Even I will admit that at first glance on the myschool website, without fully understanding the details of NAPLAN, my perception of the data was that of a ranking system for the schools. I’m sure I’m not the only one – life is hectic and quite often we have limited time to read into things.
Aside from pure academics, of equal importance for parents is the need to find a school that suits the child on all other levels. Not all education can be formulaic courtesy of a benchmark system – education must stimulate children to learn and to find confidence to grow with their natural abilities as well as find techniques for them to learn in areas they may require assistance. Ultimately, the aim is to find a balance between education, social skills, sport and communication.
For me, at the end of the day, having visited the myschool website to investigate two schools for my son, I was left feeling less confident than when I started. One school, which I had previously visited and really liked, hadn’t performed as well in NAPLAN compared to another school that I was less keen on. The fact is that presenting statistical data, whether fully relevant or not, can cast doubt depending on your outlook – one person sees 5% as bad, another sees 1 in 20 as good.
In the end, I’ve gone with my gut, confident that even if I’m wrong (it’s certainly not the end of the world) and if we monitor closely, that we have the liberty and right to change with the best interests of our children in mind.
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