Is NAPLAN improving schooling?
May 11 2012 by John Stewart, Headmaster
Is NAPLAN good for schooling?
The Big Bad Wolf dressed up as Granny in order to eat Little Red Riding Hood is a harrowing allegory we could well assign to SATs – Standardised Assessment Tests. NAPLAN – The National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy – commences next week for all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.
NAPLAN is a wolf lying within our education system. It looks the part, pretends to be the real deal and, when questions are asked, will go to great lengths to hide its true identity.
But there is a revealing question Little Red Riding Hood should ask the big bad NAPLAN wolf, Is this high-stake standardised test improving Australian education?
Proponents will defend. NAPLAN is good. The Big Bad Wolf isn’t the test, it is anyone who speaks out and tries to belittle the test. Such critics: educators, psychologists, parents and students, are termed “new-age” and are really hiding poor performing schools. To the proponents of NAPLAN, the tests emphasize the importance of literacy and numeracy, the tests track progress over time, keep teachers accountable, distinguish areas of weakness for individual students on a national scale, identify curriculum areas for whole school planning, are reliable, and improve learning.
The opponents against the tests will attack. NAPLAN is bad. The Big Bad Wolf is the test itself. NAPLAN constricts teaching and learning, is biased, is detrimental to creativity, pressurizes kids and schools, leads to league tables, does not do anything to improve learning and it costs lots of money.
The debate, the arguments, the press clippings and opinion pieces will die down and will not be heard of again until the results are published – usually in late September or October. In between this time, classrooms will chug on and schools will wait patiently, hoping their results ‘beat’ other schools. This is the competitive element of NAPLAN ‘results’. Schooling becomes a race.
But the question will always remain – Is NAPLAN good for schooling?
Standardised testing regimes do not improve results.
At a recent lecture on improving our schools acclaimed Canadian educator, Professor Ben Levin discussed data highlighting first world countries with high-stake standardized tests have seen no quantifiable improvement in results.
There IS a narrowing of curriculum diversity.
I was speaking to a girl from a local school currently in Year 3 about her school. She said they had been practising NAPLAN tests since the start of the year. I know schools that are boring the life out of kids by preparing for NAPLAN up to three hours each day. I hear stories of schools having children come back in on Saturdays and during holidays to prepare for NAPLAN.
This personal knowledge is in direct confrontation with information being circulated by Professor Barry McGaw chairman of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (responsible for NAPLAN). In The Age, he calls the idea of schools teaching to the test as ‘nonsense’. He is either in denial or lying. I know colleagues who are questioning their profession because they are being directed to teach to the test.
NAPLAN is about teaching how to take a test.
Consider the following excerpt from a paper prepared for the South Australian schools, Preparing Primary Students for NAPLAN Literacy Tests, and it is clear, we have kids being taught how to take multiple choice tests – this has little to do with literacy and numeracy skills.
“Explicitly teaching students about the subtleties of the distractors and providing practice with a range of examples will optimise students’ success.”
As reported in media,
"School deputy principal Jeremy Godden said the iPads should arrive "any day now".
He has supported the push to introduce iPads into every prep classroom since he arrived at the school in March.
"In three years time, these are the children that will be taking the NAPLAN tests for the very first time," Mr Godden said.
"Starting right from day one is one of the ways our school plans to maximise results, as well as provide a great educational foundation for our students."
Are schools teaching to the test? Ask your son or daughter.
Standardised testing restricts creative and engaging teaching.
The Whitlam Institute’s literature review of the impacts of high stake testing concludes high stake testing leads to “a narrowing of curriculum, a restriction in the range of skills and competencies learnt by students and a negative impact on the ability of teachers to employ creative and engaging pedagogies”.
Teachers feel the pressure of teaching to the test.
Why start a study of Shakespeare when you are directed to improve your students' NAPLAN scores? If you are going to improve NAPLAN results, you will do so by using more explicit teacher-led lesson structures. Classes will become lectures. Past papers will become resources. Homework will become exercise papers. Photocopies will clog up school bags. Online ‘test’ preparation sites will be in vogue.
NAPLAN does not direct teachers to individual student’s areas of weaknesses, nor does it lead to better diagnostics for four key reasons:
Schools do not get to see the test papers of individual students to scrutinize responses and discuss with the student – feedback is lacking. And yet Prof. John Hattie’s research outlines feedback as the greatest influence for improving learning.
Teachers do not actively ‘mark’ the test papers, and so trends are not authentically identified. Teachers don’t even get time to properly review the papers – as soon as the tests are finished they have to be collated and returned to the administrator. They cannot photocopy any papers, and the papers are never returned to schools, teachers or students. No parent has ever seen their child’s test paper. There must be warehouses with archived hard-copies of every student’s papers.
Student results can be unreliable because of the marking system. Results score questions as wrong (coded as Other or Missing Information) any question that has a child fill in two dots (one that was not properly rubbed out) or a dot that is not filled in sufficiently.
- Time delays mean schools receive information that is outdated. NAPLAN results only come to schools near the end of the academic year. By the time the tests results are analysed, the student is preparing for the next academic year and a new teacher.
NAPLAN Assesses the Lowest Order of Thinking
NAPLAN is a wolf, and it is devouring the most beautiful element of teaching – engagement. Kids ARE being drilled relentlessly in a narrow band of skills that do not assess the foundations of future success. The real qualities of a broad education are outlined by Gerald W. Bracey, PhD and are not ‘testable’ by multiple choice bubble filling. These qualities are outlined as…
"creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, sense of beauty, sense of wonder, honesty, integrity."
Emphasise the basics – fill in the dot and recall by rote what has been trained – and that is what you will get from your education system – a very basic product. Be aware, multiple choice tests were invented by Prof. Kelly of Kansas in 1914. He ultimately disowned the way they were being used – and was sacked as a result.
NAPLAN Costs funnel money away from more worthy areas of need.
And when the wolf stands up to belittle professional educators who raise worrying questions, be aware who is feeding the beast. The cost of NAPLAN is worth millions of dollars every year. Would that money not be better spent at the coal face – with teachers, resources and special needs programs?
“Oh NAPLAN what big teeth you have!”
Is this high-stake standardized test improving Australian education? Make up your own mind.
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About Mr John Stewart
For ten years, Mr Stewart taught in the United Kingdom at famous schools, such as Hill House International School in Knightsbridge, London; and St John's College School, Cambridge... Read more
Boarding Old Boy, 1930-33
"Apart from schoolwork, we were taught the importance of good manners, respect to women and our elders – and in sport to be gracious when winning and to take defeat with a smile. Personally, I will never forget my Tudor years. They were by far the best schooldays of my life."
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