Parents who say no to Naplan

Tuesday 19 May 2015 9:05AM

Students across Australia, in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 have just completed their national literacy and numeracy tests. Designed to give a snapshot of national standards, NAPLAN has generated alot of debate about its value and purpose and there have been two Senate inquiries in response. While most students sit the tests, some parents remain opposed and withdraw their children from the test. We speak to parents who have made this decision about their concerns and the impact on their children.


My response posted to Life Matters

Peter Curtis

A few points and there are many more. School leaders and systems do use NAPLAN and recognise NAPLAN because it has now become the universal measure across the country because of its official status as a measure not because it is valuable per se. It would be a concern if teachers relied on NAPLAN as a diagnostic tool and only replied on NAPLAN given the time lag. Good teachers are constantly assessing students in a number of ways but do not rely on a test but involve students in continual modes of improvement. Testing is not part of life, it is part of school life. How often does anyone who goes to work have to sit an exam top prove that they are learning, that they are doing their job, and demonstrating all they know in an hour or two? We would say as adults that would be unreasonable.

Not everyone does go on to university for example. In fact most people once they leave schools will probably not write anything of substance. That has been my experience in 30 years of working in trades. It was only when I went to university that I had to learn and teach myself how to write. As a teacher now it is a different matter. I am not against 'testing' and we do it all the time in different ways but not as a formal exam - a better snapshot of student, school and system performance would be a random sample. NAPLAN has become so politicised and stands as detrimental pass fail measure to punish schools with league tables and so on. A school that is one year a winner could because any number of factors slip way down the pole.

Some schools ask for NAPLAN results as part of their entry evaluation.  NAPLAN is not a class based spelling test or some such thing; it is high stakes because of the way it is used as the universal measure and determiner of value especially by those who have no involvement in teaching and schools. The argument that it helps schools and systems plan resourcing would be humorous if it were not so vexed. I have never seen NAPLAN results being used to direct increased dollars to assist performance. School funding remains as inequitable as ever. Schools that are in need of support do not get it due to poor NAPLAN performance. Performance in NAPLAN does follow socio-economic patterns, but rich schools still get the lions share of money when we evaluate on need.

NAPLAN costs millions of dollars to run and that is millions of dollars that could be so more effectively used in addressing need and equality of outcomes. It is true to say however that giant monopolising corporations such as Education publishers, computer software and hardware manufactures, and computer driven marking of tests (Murdoch, Gates, Pearsons) are pushing the standardised testing agenda. They are making many millions and billions of dollars from this global phenomenon. In the USA where standardised testing is extremely malicious and widespread it is fuelling a reaction but not from the top: parents who have been witnessing the destruction of their schools and children are beginning to organise with teachers to oppose what is a corporate and politically driven control agenda.

Those of us who are knowledgeable in these things know only too well that if we do not resist the NAPLAN definition of education will only expand to all our detriment. Teaching and learning is very complex and more so than ever. Those parents who believe anti-NAPLAN arguments by educators are about avoiding scrutiny need to educate themselves. I cannot think of many other jobs where workers are so persistently judged and assessed day in day out. To those parents who say harden up and just do it, that it is life, does not make it right - that is the same argument for justifying the use of the cane. Today we do not accept the use of the cane just because that is the way it was. Personally speaking I suffered exam anxiety all my life, I did not do matriculation for that reason and when I did go to university at the age of 40 I chose subjects that did not have exams. I still prefer not to do exams but on occasion in postgraduate study I have come to accept that some subjects do it that way. So exams have not been part of my life and I am fairly sure that I speak for many, many others too.