Testimonials, August 2015

The Australian

The national curriculum, with greater emphasis on phonics-based instruction in the early years, has lifted literacy results in Queensland and Western Australia.
Read more in Education, The Australian (subscription required) 

Top marks for Queensland in NAPLAN tests as lessons are learned, 5 August 2015

Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson attributed the state’s results to the introduction of the Prep Year, as well as the introduction of the Australian Curriculum, universal access to kindergarten and a focus on literacy and numeracy.
Read more in The Courier Mail 

To Daily Telegraph, 20 August 2015

The two articles by Bruce McDougall "Nap-Panned" (page 9) and by Kevin Donnelly "The man with the plan for NAPLAN" (page 27) of the Daily Telegraph (August 6) are contrasting in nature, with one panning it and the other providing a plan for a National Assessment Program. This sort of national assessment is not bad, but the whole problem with this assessment is that it is not seriously taken by the schools and students alike. Government is investing a considerable sum in obtaining a nation-wide assessment in literacy and numeracy, yet the government is unaware of the fact that they are getting only a partial assessment.We do not have the assessments of considerable number of individuals who do not take the test,as it is optional. It does not necessarily mean these kids are lagging behind in literacy and numeracy, but their parents have made the choice of not exposing their child to such an assessment. The flaw also lies at the level of schools because despite excellent teaching methods and programs in literacy and numeracy, they show their best students for such an assessment, thereby giving a false indication of their true ability in these two areas of assessment. Government has waited too long and has watched this loophole being exploited year after year. Now is not the time to pan, but to find a new plan for NAPLAN. Panning will cause more damage, as this is the only national test on which we rely for critical assessment of our kids in literacy and numeracy.

Since NAPLAN is not a compulsory test and not counted towards student's report, it encourages schools and students not to take such assessments seriously. Sadly, none of us talk about "International Competitions and Assessments for Schools" (ICAS), which again is an optional test run by UNSW Global catering for students in years 3 to 12 and assesses students skills in Digital Technologies, English, Mathematics, Science, Spelling and Writing. It is not even discussed and only a fraction of bright students take it to see where they stand internationally. Schools don't even take it seriously and consider that a waste of time because international standing of their kids is not important to them. Considering we are seriously lagging our Asian neighbours and also several other countries in the world, who are constantly being exposed to fierce competition at a much higher level than ours, both tests have merit. Even though NAPLAN is only a minor test, it is great we have a such a test that gives us an academic estimate of our child in the national and local context.

If government wants to see further improvement in literacy and numeracy, in a new plan our government should make it compulsory nation-wide, as this is the only way to obtain a true assessment of every kid in the nation. We need an absolute census on numeracy and literacy. A fusion model between NAPLAN and ICAS should be created, as times have changed and we need an overhaul of NAPLAN as a test approach for assessment. When the government is spending billions in providing computers to the schools and upgrading the IT systems for a better workflow, it is time to have rethink about making NAPLAN electronic so that it is completed in quick time and the results are disseminated faster, which will allow the teachers to to help their students in overcoming weaknesses. Getting stressed is a human nature and we humans have a remarkable capability to cope with stress. Our new generation is becoming couch potatoes, addicted to electronic gadgets and not making use of these smart gadgets to their benefit in literacy and numeracy. This needs to be looked into, as more and more schools are integrating smart devices into the curriculum and that includes NAPLAN.
(Dr) Nitin Saksena, Kellyville NSW

ARGUMENTS FOR NAPLAN Education HQ, 5 August 2015

It provides a snapshot of national education trends that helps track student performance and allocate resources.

Jones in talks to plug up NAPLAN, Courier Mail, 7 August 2015

Education minister Kate Jones will meet parent associations across the state to tackle the huge withdrawal rates from NAPLAN.

“Alongside in-class assessments and report cards, NAPLAN tests are an important diagnostic tool that show a student’s strengths and areas needing improvement,” Ms Jones said.

Ignore the doubters. NAPLAN is important and it's working, The Centre of Independent Studies, 05 August 2015

The National Assessment Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is doing what it was designed to do — provide a report card on school, state, and national progress in the fundamental areas of reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy.

While the national and state level NAPLAN results cannot tell us what has contributed to changes in student achievement, this is not the full extent of what NAPLAN offers. It also provides schools with finely-grained data on the performance of their students that they can use to investigate their classroom teaching strategies and the strength of their school programs. Schools have access to data showing in which questions their students excelled and those they did not. If a school sees that few of their students gave correct answers to the questions in the numeracy test involving fractions, for example, they know this area of teaching requires attention.

Parents also receive detailed information about their child’s test results. Parents who do not place much stock in NAPLAN can ignore the student report if they choose, but for parents who want some guidance on their child’s performance relative to other children across the state and the country, NAPLAN is a much-needed source of information. It is not a perfect assessment¬ ― no test is perfect ― but it gives parents a starting point to ask questions about their child’s education. Bringing the test online will eventually reduce the amount of time between testing and reporting.

NAPLAN shines a spotlight on school performance every year. It does not tell policy makers, principals and teachers how to improve student performance, but it shows where the strengths and weaknesses lie, and is a valuable resource.
Jennifer Buckingham

Comments on NAPLAN media stories

Why? I went to primary school in the 70's. We had endless tests, spelling, comprehension, maths. I liked the reading stuff, I dreaded times tables tests, but guess what, I still know them all. The tests weren't 'fun' but they were just part of school, some bits of school were fun, some not so much fun, that's just the way it was.
05 Aug 2015 3:08:30pm

I really don't understand what's wrong with giving kids tests. Being tested is something that will happen one way or another at some point, a job interview is a type of test, and these days many of them incorporate actual tests. Even if you don't want an academic/Uni career you will be tested in high school and the workforce. Someone shows you how to stack a shelf, you them demonstrate you can do it, that's a test. Better teach kids how to cope with them when they are young I reckon.
05 Aug 2015 3:15:34 pm

None of my kids were ever stressed by primary school NAPLAN test. Why would a primary school kid be stressed by such a test, anyway. I have also never heard a (non teacher) parent complain, either.

Obviously they are imperfect, and obviously some schools have demographic settings that make it harder to achieve, but they are far better guide than no guide at all.
05 Aug 2015 3:42:21pm

I agree. We had lots of tests, including those similar to NAPLAN for the educational research council. Like the NAPLAN, they didn't contribute to our final year marks. The teacher would just say one day, we will be doing this test today. We had no warning, no cramming to learn how to do well in the test, and the teacher told us, it wouldn't contribute to our marks, but it was a useful opportunity to practice what we had learned. Therefore, there was no stress.

I think the difference today is the way that teachers deal with this accountability, by pushing the children to get good scores so that they will look good themselves. Any stress on the children is probably due to teacher pressure on them to perform. NAPLAN is still a good idea. It's also great feedback to the parent as well as the school.
05 Aug 2015 5:16:38pm

From an emotional perspective, tests are neither good nor bad: they're simply tools.
05 Aug 2015 4:02:02pm

I may be wrong I haven't had any kids at school for many years but my understanding is it is the system which is being tested not the individual students so why should they be stresses. Maybe the stress is coming from home.
06 Aug 2015 6:39:59am

When I did my schooling back in the 60s & 70s we were subjected to end of term examinations which gave the teachers an indication of which subjects we were struggling with and needed more help with.
In the final year of High school we were subjected to a comprehensive examination the results of which determined our employment future.

I think the hype surrounding this test is causing more stress for the over protective parents than it is for the children. If it was just part of the normal school year testing then nobody would know the difference.
Stop wrapping kids up in cotton wool and let them see that not everything is rosy and it is OK to fail if you learn from the failure. Did that personally in the last year of school and repeated the grade and achieved the career I wanted.
06 Aug 2015 11:59:51am

NAPLAN is fantastic!
I understand that there is still a small group of teachers that are grumpy about being held to account for their performance... but from my perspective it is a win/win.... I get to see how my kids are performing and I get to see how my tax dollars are being spent....
05 Aug 2015 6:02:28pm

Teaching, individually or collectively, does have measurable inputs and outcomes. If we know what's being taught, and can assess that through testing, we can have a broad understanding of what's effective and what isn't. That does require more detail: is the child's learning at issue, or the teacher's behaviour, or the content?
05 Aug 2015 4:17:12pm

What you do not measure, you can not control. What you do not control, you can not improve.

NAPLAN is a big instrument and its measurements can be interpreted at many levels. Maybe people, schools and governments still have to learn how to do that (effectively). But simply abolishing NAPLAN would be the wrong reaction because then it will be back annecdote / conviction driven decision making.
06 Aug 2015 11:40:24am

Raw data (which is what NAPLAN provides) … gives us the observations upon which we can base theories (or prove established theories).

The "well-established markers for progress and success" need to be shown to impact on the observations we see (such as the raw data from NAPLAN) in order to verify that they ARE actually markers rather than just ignorant ideas about what affects an individual's progress and success.
05 Aug 2015 3:13:34pm

Based purely on my own experience, I can say that NAPLAN was extremely useful for us.

Out two kids were very different: the eldest - a boy - was extremely bright, easily bored, attention span of a gnat and prone to be disruptive. Our daughter was quiet, slipped under the radar, never got into trouble but a bit lazy.

Our son's school reports were consistently marked down both on effort (fair enough) and achievement, whereas our daughter's school reports gave the impression that she was an academic high-flyer, when in fact those glowing reports were because she was such an unchallenging delight in the classroom.

After they sat their respective NAPLAN tests we got the full picture. Our son's results were astonishingly good, whereas our daughters were OK, but really nothing special. The NAPLAN test was untainted by the teachers' prejudice (either way), so was accurate. Getting those results enabled us to get to the nub of the problem, zeroing in on our son's tendency to boredom and making sure our daughter's work ethic improved.

NAPLAN is not the universal panacea, and yes it has become an obsessively narrow focus for some schools, but based on our own experience, some form of standardised testing is clearly essential, both for schools AND for parents.
The NAPLAN test isn't supposed to improve the education system, it is supposed to measure it and give us information with which we can improve it. It seems to be doing its job.
05 Aug 2015 3:56:19pm

I want my kids measured because I want that information. I will not show the results to anyone else however.
05 Aug 2015 4:48:15pm

A common point of criticism for NAPLAN is that it unduly stresses students. What a load of rubbish. The people stressing themselves are a minority of teachers and parents. I've had three boys make their way through school, the youngest now in year 10, and they've all participated in NAPLAN. The boys, who range from academically weak to quite strong, have never been concerned, NAPLAN is just another set of tests or exams to be expected. There will always be some proportion of students who get worried, especially if fed negative thoughts by parents and teachers, but for the majority the testing provides a positive stressor.

Then there are the very specific examples of those who avoided or rorted or otherwise devalued the tests and the argument that those examples somehow make the whole of NAPLAN worthless. NAPLAN tests several hundred thousand students each year. The type of rare outlier examples quoted really aren't going to affect the results at national or state level, and in most cases probably not at school level. You don't throw out a valuable tool such as NAPLAN because of some outlier behavior.
06 Aug 2015 6:50:40am

As a teacher of secondary and VET students I do not always agree with Dr Buckingham but on this matter she is quite correct , NAPLAN is achieving its intended purpose of tracking general trends in the performance of young people in Primary and Secondary numeracy and literacy programs.

NAPLAN shows that something's wrong with high schools, The Australian Financial Review, 5 August 2015

Principal of Mount Gravatt State High School in Brisbane, Richard Usher, said his school has achieved improved outcomes by tailoring support to each student "clearly explaining the goals of each lesson to students, checking understanding and providing effective feedback in a consistent way across the school".

Modern necessity, The Age, Melbourne, Letters (page 17), 3 August 2015

David James ("Why Shakespeare would have failed NAPLAN", Comment, 2/8) may be correct that Shakespeare would have failed the year 9 NAPLAN test. But to judge NAPLAN without acknowledging the requirements of the modern world is indulgent. For example, faced with 100 or more applicants for a job, employers rightly use incorrect spelling and grammar as a means to shortlist applicants, as these conventions are one way that demonstrate the attention to detail they so prize.

While it is a mistake to judge a student or a school solely by NAPLAN results, the test remains one way to comprehend the strengths and weaknesses of individual students and the effectiveness of schools' teaching strategies. For parents living in a busy world with busy lives, it is often the only way they can independently verify their children's understanding of the range of skills NAPLAN assesses.

Paul Cocks, Ivanhoe