The very mention of the acronym NAPLAN, which stands for National Assessment Program – Literacy And Numeracy, can evoke a myriad of emotions amongst parents, teachers and students. The controversial series of tests covering skills in reading, writing, spelling, grammar, punctuation and numeracy has been around since 2008 and target students in year 3, 5, 7 and 9. The results of NAPLAN are designed to drive improvements in student learning and create accountability within schools. Whilst this may be true from the perspective of ACARA (Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority), this is not always the perspective and experience of those involved in the process. Parents and teachers have seen a different side to the tests with some schools ‘teaching to the test’ in a bid to gain higher marks in order to market their school as top performing and offering a better education to those which did not perform as well. Some parents have even employed private coaching to encourage their child to achieve better results, creating a culture of extreme competitiveness and a build-up of anxiety amid students. These issues cannot be ignored and whilst parents have the option of withdrawing their children from sitting the test, others are fighting to have it removed altogether.
Practically, however, what can we actually do to prepare our children for this in the best way possible? The answer is simple - remind them of what the tests are designed to do and reduce the stigma and anxiety around the test by placing little importance on their individual achievements but rather focusing on the holistic view of school improvement. If we, as parents or teachers, take a stand and refuse to get caught up in the competitive nature that has evolved from misuse of this test, it will demonstrate the practical use of NAPLAN for taking a snapshot of learning at the time at which the tests were taken. Learning is fluid. Children will have bad days, forget things and fluke things. They will be clever and think outside the square. Some things cannot be measured through a test and some things can. Take NAPLAN with a grain of salt and encourage your child to treat it like any other test they take at school.
Remember, it is merely a snapshot.
Sara Drebber is an educational consultant, teacher, writer and mother of three.