Posts Tagged ‘Sydney Morning Herald’

For those reading my blog overseas wondering What is Naplan?, think of a series of standardised tests, undertaken in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Australia. For those reading in Australia, I’m guessing you’re already aware of it.

There has been a fair bit of coverage in the media of late about Naplan, including, of late, the stress that it has put students under. For a good overview, see Jewel Topsfield’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week. I have “taught” Naplan a few times now – to Year 7 classes mostly and, this year, to a Year 9 class. This is also the first year that my own son, in Year 3, completed the tests. Topsfield’s article captures most perspectives accurately. I think both sides have important points to make. Naplan certainly provides a snapshot of where your child “is” and should, over several years, give an indication of how they have developed in relation to larger cohorts (school and nation, for example). However, I am also conscious that some schools spend ridiculous amounts of time “teaching” Naplan skills. I’m reminded of the excellent Heckler article, again from the SMH in March, from a teacher – Testing Times for Teachers and its amusing take on the pressures to prepare for the upcoming Naplan test, even though it’s months away. The idea that we jettison valuable content opportunities for a wholesale (and, let’s face it, dull) process of teaching to one test is disconcerting. Again, I’m reminded of a number of talks by Ken Robinson – well worth viewing – including the one illustrated by RSA, Are Schools Killing Creativity? 

I also have a larger concern and this is it: I wonder whether Naplan might be testing what it is setting out to test? I’ll give one example to highlight my idea.

This year, once again, the main focus in the extended writing task in English has been on Persuasive Writing. This, in varying guises, goes across all the age groups. Thus students are taught/drilled in ways of writing a piece of writing that aims to persuade the reader of a position, along with an understanding of the various text considerations that are representative of Persuasive Writing. All good so far.

But, I would like to think that Naplan is not so much about skills that have been rote learned. So, let’s say that, instead of writing an extended piece on Persuasive Writing, we were to switch it at the last minute for a piece of Creative Writing. In theory, for some of the students, this would have been an aspect examined by Naplan until only recently. And, I understand, it is due to be switched back to this at some point in the future.

Then one could see how a student ‘stands’ at that point in time, on a piece that they would have developed skills in, as part of a larger curriculum, over the last two years (since their earlier Naplan examination). So rather than a process built, mass-produced response that everyone is building towards, we could explore how students are faring more broadly.

Perhaps a more flippant way of looking at it is to compare it to a scene in the film Rain Main. Dustin Hoffman’s savant character Raymond is fantastic at counting cards for selfish brother Charlie in the casino, yet cannot distinguish between the price of a candy bar and a car which are both “about a hundred dollars”.


Maybe we should be looking at Naplan and assessing its value in fresh ways as well.