NAPLAN – an acronym that has become synonymous with Australian education over the last decade. The National Assessment Program – Literacy And Numeracy tests are held each year for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 covering skills in reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and numeracy. Every year there is a media frenzy when the NAPLAN results are released to the public and 2019 is no different. Schools which are “ranked” highly by the media seize the opportunity to promote themselves and their media status as ‘top ranking schools’ based on one criterion – NAPLAN results.
There are THREE key considerations that need to be taken into account with regards to NAPLAN testing:
Firstly, what is the purpose of NAPLAN? According to the official website, “The national minimum standards describe some of the skills and understandings students can generally demonstrate at their particular year of schooling, in a specific subject area or domain. The standards are intended to be snapshot of typical achievement and do not describe the full range of what students are taught or what they may achieve. The national minimum standards at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 represent increasingly challenging skills and understandings as students move through the years of schooling from Year 3 to 9. Students who do not achieve the national minimum standard at any year level may need intervention and support to help them achieve the literacy and numeracy skills they require to progress satisfactorily through their schooling. It should be noted that students who are performing at the national minimum standard may also require additional assistance to enable them to achieve their potential.” (see Link 1 below) Hence, the data is intended to assist schools inmonitoring how individual students are tracking and developing; it was never intended to be used as a means to rank schools because every school is unique in terms of their student population from year to year; and hence, their literacy and numeracy skills. The manner in which journalists add up all the different domain scores then divide out to find the average “performance” of the school cohort is, for educators, totally ludicrous.
Secondly, the usefulness of generating rankings based on total scores within and across year levels, using publicly available data as a measure of the quality of a school, or of the students' academic and broader experience, is very limited. These rankings do not recognise the difference in educational advantage across the communities the schools serve, hence, these rankings do not take into account individual school student population characteristics and each individual student’s progress over time. I am sure astute parents will not evaluate a school based on the outcomes of a two-day test and simultaneously disregard the experience of the students and parents during the remaining 190 school days! That said, the College has consistently achieved above the State and National averages over the years. Our staff and students work very hard to maintain this standard and it would be disappointing to discount the hard work and efforts of our staff and students in mastering literacy and numeracy.
At Trinity, we use NAPLAN cohort results to inform and guide our teaching and learning program to ensure continuous improvement and to analyse individual student achievements and challenges so as to ensure that every student continues to develop and grow. Cohort results fluctuate from year to year due to the characteristics of the particular cohort. Trinity always analyses the NAPLAN outcomes to evaluate our practice, using the data provided as any progressive and responsibile institution would do.
Thirdly, how does one determine if a school is excellent basing on the results of a two-day literacy and numeracy test calculated using a flawed method. Do parents choose schools based on their literacy and numeracy teaching only? What about all the other disciplines like arts, technology, science, languages, health and physical education? What about the pastoral care and social and emotional wellbeing of the students? An excellent school is more than NAPLAN testing results.
In was argued in the article “New global standards will force countries to revisit academic rankings” that PISA has been testing the cognitive side of learning only, however, social consequences of a test are just as important as the test’s content. (see link 2 below)
A fellow Principal published an article in the Sydney Morning Harald that received strong endorsement from fellow educators discussing how employers are relying less on academic results in hiring talent, and how the focus on teaching to NAPLAN or narrowing the focus on schooling accountability to NAPLAN outcomes alone can be detrimental to our students and our collective future. She has fairly argued that literacy and numeracy skills are important life skills, but they are not the only life skills needed for work and life.
Quoting a pertinent part of her article, “Literacy and numeracy cannot be the sole focus at the expense of self-regulation, grit, tenacity, resilience, creativity, collaboration and adaptability. The child who excels in literacy and numeracy, but cannot engage in healthy social relationships, is unlikely to be sought-after employee in their adult years. While NAPLAN exists in its current form, the message to parents is clear: the measurability of schools and of children is based entirely on academic results. This message is contrary to the message from the workforce.” (see link 3 below)
Our teachers are committed to ensuring that our students continue to progress in their mastery of literacy and numeracy skills amongst other important life skills such as grit, having a growth mindset, empathy, global awareness, perseverance, collaboration skills and humility. We are determined that all their learning is transferred from their heads (academic concepts and skills) to their hearts (values and ethics) through to their hands (service learning). This way, they will be well-prepared for life in the 21st century because they will be the ones with a wider perspective about work and life, well sought after by prospective employers and grinning from ear to ear.