From a Parent Advised Not to Withdraw Her Child from NAPLAN

As a parent of a child in Year 3, I have numerous grave concerns about NAPLAN. I question what its aims actually are and whether it achieves its purported purpose. It also question its statistical validity, its potential for misinterpretation and misuse, the pressure it exerts on students and educators…. I could go on.

Of particular concern is the inequity it seems to promote, seemingly at odds with its aim of ‘helping to identify those in need’. I loathe the idea of teaching practice being narrowed to focus on test content at the expense of other aspects of learning, and the idea of ‘elitist’ schools using NAPLAN results to ‘recruit’ those who perform well and exclude those who do not do so well on such a questionable measure.

A decent education is a basic human right for all. Surely this means well-resourced, wide ranging learning across a broad, rich spectrum catering to diverse student needs and strengths, and supporting those who need help, especially those who are vulnerable, marginalised and most in need. Each and every child deserves to have their full potential realised and each teacher should be given the scope and resources to help their students flourish.

I have therefore withdrawn my child from NAPLAN. I wish for my child to have an education that is personalised, not standardised!

When I submitted my withdrawal form at my daughter’s school, I was advised to consider the following:

• That if I wanted to send her to a private school down the track, the school would want to see NAPLAN results.

I said I was unaware that NAPLAN was a pre-requisite for school entry (and was actually quite surprised to hear such an argument given that my daughter attends the local public school). I support public education and was taken aback to hear private school entry used as an ‘incentive’ for NAPLAN. Of course I was promptly advised it was not a pre-requisite, but the idea inflamed my fears of NAPLAN as a dividing force between the ‘haves and have-nots’.

• That if I withdrew my daughter this year (in Grade 3) I might be making it ‘harder’ for her in Grade 5 and that doing the test in Grade 3 was helpful to get her used to it for subsequent years.

Personally, I think it’s developmentally inappropriate for 7-8 year-olds to sit tests under such conditions as NAPLAN – I am not opposed to assessment and testing per se, but NAPLAN just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. And the argument of ‘do it now so it’s easy later’ seems odd – should I also put my 8 year-old behind the wheel of car and send her out on the road so she ‘gets used to’ driving later? I don’t think so!

• I was also advised to ‘think about what messages’ I was giving my daughter by withdrawing her from NAPLAN, since ‘all the kids know it’s coming up’ and they will all be talking about it etc.

Well, I figured if I had to say anything, I would inform my child that it’s not something we are required to do and that I understand she tries her very best in school across all learning areas, including her strengths of music and art (by the way, what happens to these with all the focus on literacy and numeracy measured by point-in-time tests with high margins of error?). I guess the underlying message really is that I care enough about the quality of her education to stand up for what I believe in.

My daughter knows that I am proud of her and that I care about her and her education (and volunteer at her school whenever I can fit it in with my full time study). I don’t think NAPLAN would be providing any benefit at all, apart from the opportunity for those who ‘do well’ to brag about it, and those who do less well to feel even more marginalised.

I don’t even want there to be fuss about it at the school, we just want to quietly exercise our right to withdraw. Even at this young age, my daughter has a very strong sense of compassion and humanitarian values (something not taught through NAPLAN). I believe she has enough sense of self to understand there are no negative connotations about withdrawing her from NAPLAN, it’s just a philosophical choice. Surely if doing NAPLAN is ‘no big deal or cause for worry’, then not doing it is the same?

I have discovered many academic research-based reasons to withdraw from NAPLAN, and so far, nothing convincing in regard to its benefits. In fact, the more information I hear, the more convinced I am that it is not a good idea at all.

There seems to be an odd silence around NAPLAN – many parents and carers are unaware of the right to withdraw and the tests are presented as ‘something we have to do’. I was told a similar thing at a parent interview – something like ‘it’s good for the Grade 3s to know it’s just something we all do’.

This does not suggest the option of withdrawing to me. There is no mention that NAPLAN is not compulsory. It may well be something schools ‘have to’ administer, but as I understand it, NAPLAN is not something our kids have to do by any means. For schools/authorities to withhold information about withdrawal is very disappointing.

The spin is also in full cycle in the newsletters too, with plenty of comments about how ‘happy’ the kids are to be practising their tests and how they are ‘not at all scary’. I’m not really convinced myself!

I know my daughter’s school takes great care to point out that it promotes inclusion for all for NAPLAN, that is, it does not engage in the horrid practice of excluding ESL students or students with disabilities etc to bump up results. I admire this stance, but it does fail to take into account people such as myself who question the whole point of NAPLAN in the first place.

I did not know parents could withdraw students for philosophical reasons until one day I asked my mum (a former primary teacher) in frustration if it was possible to be a ‘conscientious objector’, and she mentioned a principal who is a vocal opponent of NAPLAN. I googled ‘can I withdraw from NAPLAN?’ and found out it was an option – such a relief, it felt like a burden lifted!

I believe that parents should be aware that philosophical objection to NAPLAN is an option, and if we choose to withdraw, the choice should be respected.

(Name withheld)

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