This week, students from Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 completed the NAPLAN (National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy) tests that are conducted by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). NAPLAN is an annual assessment program and tests the types of skills that are essential for every child to progress through school and life. The tests cover skills in reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and numeracy.
Recent media reports have focused on a movement by educators who would like to see the tests scrapped. There are many arguments against NAPLAN, the most prominent being the anxiety it causes some children, as well as the competitive nature of it – comparing each individual against all other students in Australia sitting the test at that time.
As a parent, I am fully aware of the impact a lower mark on the NAPLAN test can have on a child and their self-esteem; it could also be argued that NAPLAN testing does not assess genuine learning with equity, as it is clearly biased towards students who have strong literacy skills and come from English speaking backgrounds.
While there are many arguments against NAPLAN, and its merit will vary from family to family, it does provide a snapshot in time of each child’s achievement in a specific area and their improvement over a two-year period. This data is useful to our School; it is one small piece of the puzzle that will give us a glimpse into the learning of each student. Triangulated against our own internal data, our own annual testing program and the overall responses from the cohort, we are able to gather detailed information regarding each student at the School, as well as reflect upon our teaching practice to find avenues to improvement.
At Gippsland Grammar, we firstly look at entire cohorts and how they have answered each individual question on the papers. This information is invaluable for the Mathematics Department and the English Department as they begin to look for patterns of strength and opportunities for growth. It also helps the entire School to be aware of trends and movements in student learning and growth.
From this broad view of the data, we can then drill down to individual students to look at their growth, their strengths and possible areas for improvement. This information, when compared to our own reports and information gathered from internal surveys, gives us a clear picture of the engagement levels for each student, including where to place our resources to best support individuals.
As parents, while the NAPLAN results give us some feedback regarding the progress of our child and how they compare to other students of a similar age, we must always remember that this information is for a specific point in time only. The NAPLAN results are just one piece of data that we explore and investigate; like all data, its purpose is to provide stimulus for questions and a brief-not always accurate-insight into the learning of our children.
When you receive the results of the NAPLAN test, it should stimulate a genuine and supportive discussion with your child. This discussion needs to be free of judgment and focussed on next steps and improvement. Support your child as they develop a positive image of themselves as lifelong learners, and encourage them to be optimistic about setting goals and finding opportunities.