Parents need to look beyond the My School website data when choosing schools for their children, an education expert says, as this year’s NAPLAN testing begins under a fresh cloud of controversy.
Tens of thousands of students in multiple states were left “distressed” as the online version of NAPLAN, rolled out to 50 per cent of students this year, glitched and crashed on Tuesday.
Students were told they would have to resit the test using the traditional pen and paper method.
The Australian Education Union said the pressure of the test and subsequent crash left many students in tears, and called for an urgent review of the online testing method.
It is the latest in a series of criticisms that have been hurled at NAPLAN since its introduction. The loudest complaint is that it does not accurately reflect the adequacy of a school’s curriculum, and creates a negative, competitive environment within a school community.
There is also the fear parents will increasingly turn to the My School website to choose their children’s school.
The website is fuelled by data from NAPLAN results, and allows users to compare a school’s result across various grade levels and subjects against others in the same catchment.
The data, which is freely available to anyone, creates competition and anxiety among teachers and students alike, author and former teacher Gabbie Stroud says.
Ms Stroud said NAPLAN was classed as high-stakes testing which, when linked to something as publicly availably and scrutinised as the My School website, had a negative effect on the learning journey of students.
“In reality, what happens is parents can go shopping for a school like they go shopping for insurance … [asking] ‘What’s going to get me the best value?’,” the author of Teacher said.
“I fear that we’re steps away from having school brokers like we have mortgage brokers.”
Plagued by problems
NAPLAN was rolled out to Australian schools in 2008 by then Labor education minister Julia Gillard, after being conceived by her Liberal predecessor Julie Bishop a year earlier.
The results are fed to the government-owned My School website, and can be a key influencer on the funding a school received, driven by enrolment numbers.
There have long been whispers of schools asking problem or under-performing students to stay home on testing days, so the school’s overall score isn’t affected.
Ms Stroud said it was beyond rumours: “That definitely happens.”
Teachers claim the pressure of delivering good results means the curriculum before testing time is anchored around what’s going to be in the test, skewing real-life teaching methods.
But the managing body of NAPLAN, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority says the test results provide a snapshot into the education system, and allows the government to target areas that need improvement.
Former ACARA chair Professor Barry McGaw told The Australian Financial Review this week the testing was a “useful indicator for individual students and their parents”, as well as school administrators.
Common supporting statements from parents say the process “toughens kids up”, and prepares them for sitting future tests, Ms Stroud said.
Look beyond the numbers
Ms Stroud told The New Daily parents were better off finding a school for their child by doing their research.
Her tips were to:
- Visit the school. Watch the children as they leave their classrooms at the end of the day. Watch the parents. Do they look happy?
- Look at the staff and the breadth of experience across the teaching faculty. Then look at the “teacher churn” – does the school have a high turnover of teachers or a high retention rate? A high retention rate indicates happy, satisfied, quality teachers.
- Look at the school’s newsletter. Is there a microcommunity there that’s providing a supportive network?
“These are all the things that show a school that’s healthy and happy and that’s the bottom line for kids and their learning,” Ms Stroud said.
“My School doesn’t show that.”