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What is the point of NAPLAN?

Posted on Oct 28, 2019 | Dani Coulthard Print Friendly and PDF

Naplan has come and gone for another year and remains a talking point among educators and broader society. The original goal of Naplan was to identify how students were performing in the areas of reading, writing, language skills and numeracy. But the original idea of Naplan as a tool for school improvement has taken a back seat to the many issues that now surround the controversial test. Firstly, the publishing of all the Naplan data on the MySchools website.

The data itself aims to give a snapshot of a students and thus a school’s performance in those key areas mentioned above, but how accessible should that data be? We do have a right to transparency of our education system, but with rights come our responsibilities. Is publishing a school’s ranking online from that snapshot of that Tuesday a responsible choice by the government? The test was never supposed to be representative of a schools holistic educational model, but a way of identifying schools that need more funding and support. This data makes it very easy to take pot-shots at underperforming schools, with the MySchools website not providing much context or explanation of the mitigating factors that can affect a school’s result. The data provided by the MySchools website isn't presented in a way that captures the culture of a learning environment, it can only offer cold hard data more suited to the public service’s need to determine where to put educational funding.

Another issue in the surrounding Naplan is the imposition it has on a teacher’s educational plan for the term. Due to the pressure on schools to do well, whether it be the from media, parents and government; this tends to take the focus away from the curriculum, to teach the skills needed to do well on the test. This doesn't necessarily mean that these Naplan skills aren’t synonymous with good teaching practices, but the tests aren’t designed to elevate students into higher order thinking. If we look particularly at its English component, some research has found that there is too much of a focus on lower order comprehension and grammar skills, as opposed to the higher order skills of critical and creative expression. This is the problem with seeing Naplan as a true representation of a school. What about a school’s ability to devote time to readying their students for technological change, and the soft skills needed to pivot a career in the ever-shifting employment landscape?

For now, Naplan is here to stay, and we must understand the real purpose of the test. We should see the test, as an indicator of schools most in need of support and financial funding. A Naplan score isn’t the be all and end all of a schools ability to educate; far from it.

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