This writer is an English teacher who teaches years 7 to 12 in Western Australia.
“Playing games created by those who are not experts”
When the NAPLAN results were announced this morning, I sighed heavily. It was declared that the 2016 NAPLAN data demonstrated that students’ literacy and numeracy skills have plateaued in Australia. Like a defeated coach leaving the field, I wondered how next NAPLAN season I could adjust my program so that my students could ‘win’ next year.
As teachers we have to work within the parameters provided to us. We have to play games that were created by those who are not experts in education and who tweak the rules of the game as they deem necessary.
Today, teachers lost the NAPLAN game again despite hard work, a clear plan and utilising the resources available. Students, forced into the field and coerced with platitudes were told that they hadn’t played well enough.
Parents who eagerly cheered their kids on throughout the process are now left wondering what else they could have done and how they are going to wipe away the disappointed looks on their children’s faces.
And what were the final margins between declaring failure or victory? 2016 writing results have decreased by 0.2 per cent, reading results have increased by 0.4 per cent and numeracy scores have risen by 1.26 per cent since 2013.
As politicians rose from their corporate box seats to yell for their teams and bellow rhetoric about funding, teaching pedagogy and ‘benefiting students’ I want to remind them that they are too far removed from the action of day-to-day learning in classrooms to say anything meaningful.
I want to tell them to listen to teachers, parents and students that are in the thick of it throughout the season and on game day.
I want to tell them that if nothing else, listen to the experts speaking out, and to the data. NAPLAN testing is not benefiting our students or our school communities.
I have become an expert in NAPLAN. But what does that even mean?
As a teacher, I am crucially aware of the importance of literacy and numeracy. For years I have worked with my classes in developing their literacy skills, programming lessons to ensure they are being taught effectively and timing everything we do so that they have the best chance they can of succeeding in standardised testing.
My teaching ability is assessed in part by the NAPLAN data of students I teach. I have made myself an expert on the NAPLAN writing rubric and reading test. I have worked with colleagues to moderate student work, innovate our teaching practices and assure each other that we’re doing all we can to see every student achieve their best.
But how can standardised tests measure an individual’s best work? How can it measure a student reading a novel for pleasure? How can it measure the plethora of creative talent students have when their ideas are only given a mark of 5/46 in the narrative writing section? Can the test measure having a sense of humour? Perseverance? Determination? Does it take into account learning difficulties? Does it take into consideration socio-economic indicators? Does it measure the impact of anxiety, family problems, a friendship drama or a bad sleep, on a student’s work? Does it help teachers teach?
We don’t want to play this game any more
Education Minister Simon Birmingham declared that “We need to focus on evidence based measures that will get results for our students “ and “that parents need to appreciate that NAPLAN is not the be all and end all; it’s an important indicator on which we can make policy decisions”.
Well, Minister Simon Birmingham, to me the evidence is clear. What you need to appreciate is that parents, teachers and students don’t want to play your game anymore. To you, NAPLAN may be an important indicator, but to us it is a broken system and the source of immeasurable stress and anxiety. Let’s get back to letting teacher’s do their jobs and helping students learn effectively without fear of not measuring up.
We don’t have time to play games with our children’s future.