This week Australian schools are carrying out The National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy, which is more commonly known as NAPLAN. This is an Australia-wide standardised test that annually assesses students in years 3, 5, 7 & 9 and compares the results of schools across the country. I find it fascinating that NAPLAN is such a hugely significant part of the school year for so many teachers and students. The very word ‘NAPLAN’ causes children to shudder, gasp or look back at you with wide, desperate eyes that are begging for a way out. How is it that a series of tests can cause so much of a stir?
I feel as though the negative aspects of NAPLAN are quite clear, and widely discussed. There is the issue of teachers ‘teaching to the test’, or altering their teaching methods to help their students perform well, which takes teaching time away from other learning areas in the process. Then, of course, there is the stress and anxiety NAPLAN causes to students and teachers, which is detrimental to the classroom environment. It can cause students to change their behaviour and in itself can result in students performing poorly in a test that – in different circumstances – they would have done well in. There is also the notion that standardised testing does not assess creativity or practical skills, nor does it take into account the background of each student.
All this being said, I do believe that there are some positive aspects that should not be overlooked. First of all, the fact that NAPLAN is the same across all schools nationwide means it does give an accurate comparison. Not to mention, it can be used as a way for teachers to determine which areas of literacy and numeracy they should give more attention to in the classroom. Also, I would argue that it gives students a taste of what is to come in later years. What I mean is, by the time students are in the senior years of high school they will inevitably be faced with exams, and for those who go on to tertiary study this will be even more common. It may sound harsh, but the reality is that as students become older they may have to do things they don’t want to do, in order to be successful. NAPLAN gives students a chance to accept this from a young age, as well as providing an opportunity for them to learn strategies to help manage things like stress.
So, in conclusion, while I realise that there are some very real and negative emotions around NAPLAN and while I know that this will become an issue that I will have to deal with as a teacher, I think that, as always, there are two sides to the story. There are many ways that it could be adapted, but for the time being I think the best we can do is simply learn to cope with the challenges it brings, and to help our students overcome the fear that so often surrounds it.
(Further information about NAPLAN is available at:NAPLAN)