This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegraph and has been republished here with permission.
NAPLAN 2015 begins on May 10 in schools around Australia. This annual bureaucratic extravagance in the name of quality education and enhanced transparency will, by some conservative estimates, cost Australian taxpayers $100 million.
What do we get for our $100 million? Improved teaching standards? Greater insight into school performance? Increased student interest in learning? Enhanced student resources or boosts to teacher and student wellbeing? Better resources?
Sadly, Naplan delivers little, if any, educational value
In a report for the Whitlam Institute, Professor John Polesel described how the test is shown to possess poor reliability. The tests provide poor quality data. There is widespread anecdotal evidence of cheating and other breaches of testing protocol (such as schools asking poor-performing students to remain at home so as not to lower the school’s score on the myschool website).
Then there is the fact Naplan results are delivered about five months after the tests are administered, making it impossible to consider meaningful change to ‘‘assist students’’ until the next year.
In other words, Naplan fails, regardless of student or teacher performance.
Naplan does, however, deliver a range of outcomes not discussed on the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) website. To start with, Naplan delivers a narrowed curriculum as students miss out on various educational opportunities (such as sport, arts and drama, music and sometimes even lunch) for extra classroom time on Naplan practice.
Naplan delivers results that indicate very little about teacher quality, but a lot about the socio-economic status of families at a school. (There is a strong positive correlation between Naplan scores and family income.)
Naplan is a failure. Most important of all, it fails our students
Naplan delivers poorer quality teaching. The Queensland Studies Authority stated that this testing encourages “methods of teaching that promote shallow and superficial learning rather than deep conceptual understanding and the kinds of complex knowledge and skills needed in modern, information-based societies”.
That is because Naplan rewards poorer quality teaching that focuses on the test and strips away context, curiosity and creativity around learning concepts.
Naplan delivers heightened levels of unnecessary stress and anxiety for children as young as seven who are sitting the third grade test.
Empirical data has shown that some students experience so much Naplan-related pressure that they suffer migraines, sleeplessness and even vomiting.
This is related to both parent and teacher expectations, with children being told their performance will affect their ability to succeed in school and in life.
The damage stays with a person for life
Naplan also delivers powerful labels that can stay with a child, not just for a year, but for a lifetime. Struggling students receive a report five months following their test, informing them and their parents of their academic incompetence in comparison to the rest of the country’s students.
The damage such a result can do for a student in third grade is substantial, potentially lifelong and unacceptable. Of course, the parents and teachers of students who are struggling will usually already know a child is struggling. Receiving the delivery of a Naplan envelope in October means the student will know it as well.
Research that has examined children’s beliefs about intelligence shows that once they believe they are ‘‘dumb’’, they become less motivated, are less likely to try, become more disengaged, and ultimately perform poorly.
Naplan delivers that unhealthy, fixed mindset that harms children’s resilience to all children in grades 3, 5, 7, and 9 if they perform poorly.
Defenders of Naplan will argue that it is important to see how children are doing and how teachers are teaching. These are important indices of a quality education. However, Naplan is a blunt and unreliable instrument for assessing both of these things.
Naplan is a failure. It fails the economic justification test. It fails the accountability test. It fails good pedagogical practice standards. It fails the curriculum. And most important of all, it fails our students.