Teachers are leading a growing push to abolish NAPLAN after this week’s results again sparked debate over the future of the controversial school testing system.
Following Wednesday’s lacklustre results, Education Minister Dan Tehan said he would stand by NAPLAN, while state ministers were left promising to review their teaching methods.
Gabbie Stroud, an ex-teacher and author of the book,Teacher, said one of the key issues was that publishing the results online made the test “high stakes” and created unhelpful competition.
“The moment it becomes a high-stakes test, it puts enormous pressure on schools and teachers to perform,” she told The New Daily.
Ms Stroud argued that many schools were now putting undue emphasis on NAPLAN results.
“What I noticed happening over time, NAPLAN is changing the landscape,” she said.
“Now everyone is working towards this timeline. It demoralises teachers and destabilises the teaching profession.”
The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy is a standardised test taken by students in year 3, 5, 7 and 9.
This year will be the first year that students who have completed all the tests leave school and Ms Stroud said it’s noticeable.
“They’re graduating this year and secondary teachers describe them as needing to be spoon-fed,” Ms Stroud said.
“They wait for instruction and that’s indicative of the education they’ve received.
“I don’t blame teachers or schools. We’re all in survival mode.”
A national survey of teachers commissioned by the Australian Education Union (AEU) showed that nearly nine out of 10 public school teachers thought NAPLAN was an ineffective method for assessing students.
AEU acting federal president Maurie Mulheron said: “These survey results demonstrate the strength of feeling in the teaching profession against NAPLAN, with nearly nine in 10 public school teachers saying it isn’t fit for purpose.
“A child’s education cannot simply be encapsulated as a number in a spreadsheet. We need a much more holistic assessment process which is connected to the daily learning that occurs in our schools.”
Jane Mueller, principal of Brisbane’s Living Faith Lutheran Primary School, said NAPLAN’s problems came down to neuroscience.
“We start assessing children in terms of standardised testing in year three, however the right brain develops before the left brain,” Ms Mueller said.
“The right brain is responsible for creativity, imagination, innovation. We’re forcing left-brain learning on them before it’s formally formed.”
Ms Mueller said that not only was the NAPLAN system putting pressure on children’s minds, it was also affecting their parents.
“I’ve seen parents choose schools based on results, I’ve seen parents wave around their NAPLAN results like it’s a trophy or a death sentence,” she said.
“But the reality is, there’s no evidence to show how it will affect their child’s success. Parents are anxious and worried. I really feel for them. It’s not healthy.”
All in favour, say aye
Proponents of the NAPLAN tests seem far and few between, but they are out there.
After this week’s results, Mr Tehan mustered a strong defence, saying we wouldn’t know about educational problem areas without them.
“Let’s not blame the tests. Let’s make sure that we understand what the results are and where we need to put the work in,” he told reporters.
The Grattan Institute’s Peter Goss said despite NAPLAN’s deficiencies, it was still a valuable tool.
“As a nation, if you imagine a set of scales, NAPLAN is a big heavy weight,” Mr Goss said.
“The scales are a bit out of balance. The way to get them back into balance is not to throw it out, but to strengthen the weight of high quality, rigorous data, gathered by teachers for the purposes of informing day-to-day learning,” he explained.
“It lets us see whether some groups of schools are doing better than others, which then prompts the question as to why might that be.”
‘NAPLAN is dead’
Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have all been running reviews of the test, but recommendations would need to be accepted by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.
Professor Adrian Piccoli, director of the Gonski Institute for Education and former NSW education minister, said NAPLAN was already on its way out.
“NAPLAN is dead. Policymakers are yet to realise it,” Professor Piccoli said.
“Schools don’t like it, the profession doesn’t like it. Parents only like it because it’s the best thing they’ve got. The media complains about it every time. It really doesn’t tell you everything.”
While admitting that it had some merits, like tracking data, Professor Piccoli said that NAPLAN had been implemented based on an American system to make schools more competitive, but had ultimately failed.
“If this was the great thing that was going to improve our education system, it’s been there for 11 years [and] it hasn’t changed anything,” he said.
“After 11 years you would think we would say ‘Let’s have a rethink’.”