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Mother’s concern over testing times

A mother is worried about the emphasis on study for NAPLAN tests at her children’s school.

QUESTION:

I am concerned about the excessive emphasis on studying for the NAPLAN test at my children’s school. I have a son going into Year 8 and my daughter will be Year 3. She is already becoming anxious about taking the test this year, after watching her brother go through it over and over again. The school is spending more and more time teaching to the test. I’m not sure what my children are missing out on. What can I do to redress the balance?

ANSWER: 

The NAPLAN (National Assessment Plan – Literacy and Numeracy) tests were introduced as a way of identifying schools and individual students who were underperforming in the areas of literacy and numeracy, so that education systems and schools could deploy resources more effectively.

Your daughter’s anxiety about taking the test for the first time is quite common. Try to reassure her and explain to your daughter that her scores in her first NAPLAN test this year will not say whether she is a bad or good student but rather whether there is a need for a little extra help.

It would also be wise to talk to her teacher and explain your girl’s stress. The panel is sure the teacher will help you to allay your daughter’s fears.

The broader issue of whether the obsession with NAPLAN is having a detrimental effect on the school curriculum in general is a more difficult one. Unfortunately, the popular perception has become that test scores reveal good and bad schools, and bright and not so bright students. When NAPLAN results are released, politicians and commentators bemoan the fact that their state is below the national average or that Australia ranks well down the world list of countries in literacy and numeracy. This, of course, puts a great deal of pressure on the system and school administrators and on individual teachers; this in turn results in schools concentrating on literacy and numeracy and ‘teaching to the test”.

The panel recognises the importance of literacy and numeracy but, like you, we worry that such an approach runs the risk of ignoring many areas of a good general education. Creative and cultural activities, physical and social skills, citizenship education, health education and even science and some of the manual arts may be at risk in our education systems of the future. The question then is ‘what can we do?”.

The answer seems to us to be that we, parents and the general community, need to make politicians, system administrators and schools aware that we regard education for our future citizens to be broad and creative. We also need to resist attempts to let the results of NAPLAN tests in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 be the only measures of how our schools and students are performing.

It is difficult for an individual to have an impact. Perhaps a good starting point would be for a group of concerned parents (like you) to instigate some discussion meetings where various views could be aired and made known to the decision-makers in education. You could be the catalyst for positive change.

The panel realises that this may seem a little vague and long-term but changing attitudes takes a long time. However, it always starts with a few people who feel strongly about an issue.

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