NAPLAN Crowds Out Other Education Goals

When you have simple one dimensional metrics to measure performance people will “game” the outcome.

It is one of the biggest problems that shareholders have in private firms. Many firms prioritise short-term profits over long-term viability (the performance of the financial sector was a great example of this).

Public sector firms are different, as well as having profit goals they also have a wide range of social goals, that private sector firms do not. The economics and governance processes that are applied to public sector firms are usually the same ones as apply to large non-government organisations. They must have regard to the need for financial viability, but social and political outcomes are the focus.

With NAPLAN, education is now based on the private sector model – that is schools have to get the best outcome on the test and they will “game-it” to maximise outcomes. NAPLAN is to a school, like the profit for the year is to a firm.

However, for schools, like social welfare providers, their outputs are a mixture of complex behaviours which the NAPLAN test does not pick up. For schools a good educational outcome are a mixture of complex and nuanced behaviours – teamwork, creativity, innovation, judgement, civic responsibility, diplomacy, ability to contextualise behaviours, tact, resilience etc. etc.

NAPLAN does not test for these, nor can it. But NAPLAN is the headline that schools are now being asked to meet, and because it is high stakes and a single performance indicator, this is what schools focus on and it crowds out other education goals and outcomes.

The Government should be interested in metrics and it has a responsibility to the community for this. Designed by public servants and “think tanks”, NAPLAN is a “lazy” metric and is too basic to measure anything about the quality of the system.

Denis O’Dea

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