If you have a child in grades 3, 5, 7 or 9, chances you might be feeling the pain of NAPLAN this week, along with more than a million other kids from around the country.
I say might because some parents, schools and students are very sensible about NAPLAN and treat it like it is a “snapshot” of where your child’s school and your child are at this point in time compared to other schools and students at their grade level around the country.
I’m on the very laid back about NAPLAN end of the parenting spectrum. This year is the third year in a row I’ve had a kid doing NAPLAN… but my grade five daughter, who is the type to fret needlessly about things she cannot control, went off to school this morning choc full of anxiety about the testing, regardless of what I had told her to try to alleviate it.
Her anxiety leaves me perplexed, because it’s not as though it’s the sort of test that her entire future hinges on (and let’s face it, even if you fail Year 12 it’s not the end of the world, you can do it again or pursue other academic options as a mature age student).
She’s 10. She’s being tested on writing, reading and numeracy. If she doesn’t do well, so what? It just lets us know (her parents and her school) that she’s either had an off day or she needs some help. And we shouldn’t need NAPLAN to tell us that she’s got problems with reading, writing or maths anyway. By this stage in her education, if she was falling behind on any of these things, I’d like to hope that it would have been picked up on by now.
When she sat NAPLAN in grade three she was just as anxious. I can’t relate because I was the sort of student who annoyed the crap out of her teachers by NOT studying very hard for anything (if at all) and managed to pass everything, usually with flying colours, and get into uni.
I remember seeing friends work themselves up into states where they just about vomited before our Year 12 exams. It didn’t occur to me I might one day have a kid who would get worked up like that too. And it certainly didn’t occur to me that it would start in grade three, because there was no such thing as NAPLAN or anything like it when I was a child.
My younger daughter is in grade four this year and when she did NAPLAN last year, I completely forgot NAPLAN was even on because she gave zero stuffs about it. Which is the way it should be.
Incidentally, both of my kids did well on their grade three NAPLANS despite their very different approaches to the importance of it.
I don’t think our school is putting too much pressure on the kids, not from what I can see anyway. Apart from a note that came home that made me roll my eyes a bit, urging parents to ensure we fed our children breakfast on the NAPLAN days (what, it’s not important every day)? and to make sure they get a good night’s sleep beforehand.
The Cost Of Being Above Average
There are always stories around at NAPLAN time about schools that DO go over the top, determined to maintain a better average than other schools, and pressure the kids into doing well (or ask the kids they think are duds to stay home so they don’t drag their school’s score down.)
According to an Australian Catholic University senior research fellow Dr Kevin Donnelly, quoted in The Daily Telegraph, NAPLAN is taking up a lot of teaching time with unintended consequences:
“While I’m in favour of accountability and transparency, it takes up too much time,” he said.
“There’s a lot of pressure on schools and teachers to perform, especially in Years 3 and 5 and it does interfere with teaching and learning.”
“There are some schools, where they are so heavily focused on literacy and numeracy, that music, art and physical education miss out.”
That sucks if kids are missing out on other aspects of learning if they go to a school that is heavily invested in prepping for a diagnostic test. A high level of coaching and testing in some schools is inevitably going to skew the results away. How can it be an accurate “snapshot” if some schools go all out for months in the lead up to the NAPLAN tests to ensure they get good results?
Children can be withdrawn from NAPLAN if parents have a philosophical or religious objection to the tests. At this point I don’t know that I object strongly enough, in that I see some value in knowing how my child is faring compared to others around the nation, but I remain extremely concerned about this source of needless anxiety.
A letter sent to students at Perth Montessori School school during the NAPLANs last year pretty much sums it up:
“These tests don’t show that some of you love to sing, are good at drawing or can teach others how to use a computer program, that some of you can dance with grace or speak confidently to a large group,” the letter said.
“They do not show that your friends count on you to be there for them when they are sad.
“The scores you get from these tests will tell you how well you did on that day, but they will not tell you everything. The work you do every day of the school year tells us a lot more.”