NAPLAN is a Cancer Eating Away at Education

Save Our Schools has received many objections to the NAPLAN tests from parents, teachers and principals in response to its public call for information on the impact of the tests. Trevor Cobbold, National Convenor of SOS, said that the responses show that NAPLAN is having pernicious effects on Australian education.

“NAPLAN is a cancer eating away at education. It is distorting teaching practice, reducing creativity and fun of learning, denying students in-depth learning experiences and sidelining other key subjects such as science, history, languages and the arts for much of first semester.

“It is an all-school thing, not just for the year levels tested. Schools even resort to practising for NAPLAN in the off-years that are not tested to prepare them for the tested years.

“Parents, teachers and principals all say that the whole focus of Term 1 and the beginning of Term 2 is now on preparing and practising for NAPLAN. Many schools have timetabled practice tests through Term 1 which are ramped up in Term 2. A Victorian Year 3 teacher said of the constant practice that “I am over it and the kids are over it”. Several parents said that schools had encouraged them to engage private tutors for their children.

“One parent commented that ‘In primary schools children hardly learn anything other than maths and English’. A NSW high school principal told SOS that NAPLAN has ‘high-jacked’ the curriculum in Term 1.”

“A Queensland teacher said: ‘We seem to have lost not only the fun in learning but also the intrinsic value of finding out about, and trying out ‘stuff’ because it is interesting….the joy of teaching is also fading fast in the last few years thanks to NAPLAN. A Western Australian teacher said that NAPLAN is “very limiting” and restricts “creativity in teaching”.

“One NSW parent said that NAPLAN is equivalent to the selective high school test. Others said the pressure around NAPLAN was equivalent to Year 12 exams.

Mr. Cobbold said that the cancer is also eating away at education in other Year levels.

“The pressure on schools is such that many resort to practising for NAPLAN even in year levels that are not tested. For example, teachers in one Victorian private school were told that ‘we need to prepare the children for this test from the beginning of Year 1’. Many schools are required by regional directors to have a 12-month plan to prepare for NAPLAN.

“Many schools start practising in Term 4 of the year before the tests. A Queensland teacher told SOS that Year 2s are made to do tests in the last few weeks of the year prior to the year they will do NAPLAN despite the fact that they are developmentally not ready for these types of tests or the academic material included.

“Some NSW high schools made their Year 8 students participate in tutoring and practising for NAPLAN this year even though they do not do the tests until next year.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the responses revealed several other concerns about NAPLAN.

“There is widespread lack of awareness amongst parents and teachers that parents can withdraw their child. Many believe that NAPLAN is compulsory. One ACT parent said that ‘there has been some sort of concerted effort at all relevant levels to con (i.e. mislead and deceive) students and parents into believing that NAPLAN was compulsory’. A NSW mother said that it took weeks of repeatedly asking to get a withdrawal form. One Queensland school tried to convince a parent not to withdraw her child because without NAPLAN results she would find it hard to get into a private school.

“A Victorian mother was told that she was not ‘playing to the rules’ by withdrawing her son and that ‘he had to do it’. A NSW school principal refused a request from the P&C to put the withdrawal form on the school website because ‘I am not allowed to do that’.

“Another concern is that many schools focus on students who are just below the minimum benchmarks and neglect the learning of very low or high achieving students. One teacher said that teaching to the ‘bubble’ just below the benchmarks is commonplace in many schools. Another said that NAPLAN forces us to ‘teach to the middle’.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the harm being done to education by NAPLAN is entirely due to the publication of school results on the My School website.

“We have had national literacy and numeracy testing and reporting to parents since 1998 and none of this teaching to the test, excessive test practice and narrowing of the curriculum existed before My School. It is Julia Gillard’s disastrous legacy to education.

“Some educators said that good teaching practice is no longer valued by authorities. As one NSW high school principal said, ‘a significant variety of educational programs with high-level pedagogical practice are virtually sidelined and ignored in any review or accountability by those in authority’. All that matters is school test scores.”

However, Mr. Cobbold said, there is some evidence of growing higher level concern.

“Last month, the national education ministers’ council expressed concern about excessive test preparation and the narrowing of the curriculum as a result of the publication of NAPLAN data on My School. Ministers commissioned an investigation by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

“An independent investigation would be preferable given the recent statement by the ACARA chairman, Barry McGaw, that claims that NAPLAN is creating test-driven schooling are ‘nonsense’. We can only hope that ACARA will do a proper investigation and not produce a ‘whitewash’ report. We have to rid our classrooms of this cancer.”

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