Why we need to prepare our kids for NAPLAN

Cluey Chief Education Officer Dr. Selina Samuels looks at the importance of NAPLAN and the advantage of preparing for it.

Dr Selina Samuels Chief Learning Officer BA(Hons), LLB, PhD, MEd Wednesday, 1 May 2019

NAPLAN has become an extremely emotive topic.

The debate around the virtue and efficacy of standardised testing is especially fierce in reference to younger children. What’s more, questions around the appropriate ways to prepare for NAPLAN further intensifies things.

In this context, we thought long and hard before we created our NAPLAN programs. The decision was ultimately driven by the level of interest from parents and students in specific ways to prepare for NAPLAN — both to fill knowledge gaps and to build confidence. In fact, we began getting enquiries for customised help as early as June last year.

When we considered the volume of requests against our core belief in custom learning support for every child, we began to look more closely at how we could help these students.

The importance of NAPLAN

Much of the debate around NAPLAN obscures its original purpose. The National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests the core skills every child needs in order to progress through school. It also helps education bodies create benchmarks for learning.

Statewide assessments are common around the globe, for example the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) PISA test is designed to understand, evaluate and compare education systems worldwide.

There is obvious value in governments and education systems establishing expectations around age-appropriate academic standards, and holding educators, schools, and governments accountable.

NAPLAN is different from regular classwork. So is NAPLAN prep.

NAPLAN has a very specific focus on problem-solving and applied learning. The format of the questions and the tests themselves are quite distinctive.

In both the literacy and numeracy tests, students demonstrate their understanding of specific grammar rules or processes for solving an equation, however they also show their ability to navigate multiple choice questions, interpret instructions, and understand how to write for a specific audience and purpose. Students are working under time constraints and in exam conditions, perhaps for the first time.

These skills are valuable for academic success and for life. We want our young people to have secure abilities in literacy and numeracy, and to have the self-management skills to do their best under pressure and time constraints. But gaining and demonstrating these skills is not straightforward. It can take its toll on students’ confidence, which in turn means that it is hard for them to show what they can do.

It’s okay to prepare students for what’s to come

Many schools continue to maintain a firm policy not to teach directly to NAPLAN. More still have decided that it is unfair on students not to familiarise them with the format of these tests and the structure of the questions.

At the end of the day, parents and teachers should be ensuring that kids don’t fear NAPLAN. Preparation is a large part of that process.

Knowing what to expect

At Cluey, the feedback we’ve received from parents is that they want their children to know what to expect and to have strategies to help them approach the tests. Familiarity and practice are the best ways to dispel – not create – anxiety.

Cluey addresses the lag in NAPLAN reporting

One of the key criticisms of NAPLAN is the delay between students sitting the tests and receiving their results. This delay means that the relevance of the information about individual performance gleaned from the tests is reduced. This is particularly true for younger students, who learn and develop so quickly.

Such a lapse reduces the value of NAPLAN as a data-gathering tool for teachers and parents, but conversely increases the value that our NAPLAN program can offer students. With our focus on individual, proximate and actionable feedback, we can turn NAPLAN into an opportunity for formative assessment and feedback that embeds the skills that students need, turning NAPLAN into an enriching learning experience.

Making the decision to offer NAPLAN support

In spite of the inherent controversy surrounding NAPLAN, we based our decision to offer NAPLAN tutoring support on our belief in giving every student personalised support and building confidence in the test format to reduce unnecessary stress. We also felt that our analytics capabilities and power to give immediate feedback could service the true goal of NAPLAN, which is to ensure children meet the core skills they need in school and in life.

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