It’s NAPLAN time again, and along with it comes the inevitable debate around its pros and cons, whether it does more harm than good, and if results really do provide accurate and worthwhile insight into students’ overall progress.
When reviewing your child’s NAPLAN report, it’s important to remember that exam marks are a tiny snapshot of your child’s progress at a single moment in their long education. They’re a reflection of the test conditions, your child’s mood that day, and even whether they’ve made that next “leap” in their learning.
What NAPLAN does give us is a source of useful information from which to assess teaching and learning strategies — what’s working, what needs to be addressed, and how to target individual students to boost their skills.
“Testing is, and has always been, an important part of data-gathering that provides an indication of what has been learnt and where gaps in learning might exist,” says Professor Garry Falloon, Associate Dean, International and Professor of Digital Learning in the Faculty of Human Sciences at Macquarie University. “It’s also helpful for guiding teachers to best target their efforts to improve learning.”
“Arguably it is this diagnostic or formative function of testing that is the most powerful for improving learning. It can provide specific and detailed information that teachers can use to customise or target the learning needs of individual students, supporting more efficient and effective curriculum design and delivery, and thereby potentially enhancing learning outcomes.”
“The NAPLAN results may tell us which areas need focus, but they certainly don’t define students or their future achievements.”
One mark doesn’t determine future success or failure
“Children all develop and learn at different rates,” says Cluey Chief Learning Officer, Dr Selina Samuels. “I have had students who did very poorly in their Year 7 NAPLAN literacy test go on to achieve over 90% in their HSC English exams. The NAPLAN results may tell us which areas need focus, but they certainly don’t define students or their future achievements.”
Regardless of how your child performed in NAPLAN, it’s important to remember that these results are a reflection of their ability at just one moment on their education journey. Within six months they might be in a very different place if their NAPLAN score is used to review teaching strategies, content and priorities to provide specific support.
What isn’t measured by NAPLAN
Curiosity, perseverance and simple maturity cannot be measured by an academic test, and yet these are often the keys to future success.
Successful people aim for lifelong learning. That includes failure at different points, too. There’s no way that they would treat a good NAPLAN result as the pinnacle of success. Nor would they allow less-than-desirable results at the age of ten, thirteen, or fifteen to detract from the hard work they put in over the next sixty years.
As Professor Falloon says, “At the end of the day, we aren’t likely to see any changes to policy around NAPLAN in the foreseeable future. So the real question is not whether NAPLAN is good, bad or otherwise, it’s how we can best use the information it provides to improve the future learning of students, which, as parents and teachers, should be our primary focus.”