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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Don't be scared of the big, bad Naplan

I have seen more tears and public humiliation at the Sports and Swimming Carnivals (My heart literally breaks watching those kids that can't swim the distance) than I have ever seen for Naplan. If NAPLAN is framed correctly, the only stress is getting to school on time and having the right 2HB pencil.  I am waiting for the uproar to ban those carnivals because they're too stressful and make a lot of kids feel really bad about themselves, anyone with a kid that always comes last or never gets a ribbon knows how stressful the carnival can be. It's weird that we only seem to have this attitude about NAPLAN.
I have done some reading since (Beautiful Failures) that is quite anti Naplan, and while I in part agree, I still think it's what we the parents do with NAPLAN that makes it bad, and that the theory behind it is fine.

Last week, I saw a number of 'Dear Students, Naplan can't measure how wonderful you are' kind of posts. And yes, it can't. But neither can school or the HSC. So why have we magnified NAPLAN into a big bad wolf of injustice? I agree it doesn't measure which kid had breakfast or not, but neither does anything else, so how that came into the equation is beyond me.

It's not the government or even school's fault. It's us parents. We've become so fearful of failure and disappointment for our children. We've created a new monster, and like everything else, our children will suffer for it.

If everything in your school life leads to an exams (the HSC), then do a tonne of exams so you don’t get nervous, make them just another thing you do at school. There's no stress associated with tests unless we create it. This is proof alone in the High Schoolers reaction to NAPLAN. Their results of NAPLAN mean nothing at all to them (they're not used to get you into a High School or any special class), and as a result, I reminded three high schoolers on Monday night that they had NAPLAN the next day, and all three had been completely oblivious to the fact. So it is the parents of the year three's and fifth graders who have magnified the meaning of a simple test.

If NAPLAN was used so the school could focus on the overall weaknesses, then NAPLAN is extraordinarily worthwhile. For example, if the maths average of the year was weak, then the school could implement maths groups to help bring up the rear guard or if they clearly need to work on literacy, then they could start a literacy lockdown sessions with the K-2 groups (so that the standard by year three is improving) and so on. Doing well or bad in NAPLAN is only useful if the results get used to improve the school teaching methods, otherwise, it is only useful for the parents to help focus on those weaker areas. Maybe they need a maths tutor, or to understand how to write a story? There is something beneficial in knowing where to help someone improve.

Getting tutored to do well in NAPLAN means you’ve wasted an opportunity to see what you need to focus on. If you are being tutored for this BASIC skills test, it means you are covering up any learning areas that need focus. They may learn how to do one or two particular problems, but not understand the process completely - they see it just for the test and not beyond it. NAPLAN is meant to highlight how you are progressing at the most basic levels.

Schools that do endless practices for NAPLAN are equally at fault. Do a couple so the kids know how to fill in the boxes, where to write their name or how to write a story but then leave it. It should be a snapshot of what they know and what they don't, and what needs to be the focus in teaching.

This is the big issue, where the parents have distorted all meaning from NAPLAN. They started to judge schools by their NAPLAN results. Judging a school by their NAPLAN results may mean you ignore the key issues of what the school offers. A lot of schools do well because they tell students not to sit NAPLAN to skew the figures. If you want to know what's bad for a child's self esteem, it's not trying and failing, it's being told they have no chance so don't even bother. That any parent would agree to this insulting turn of events is beyond me.

Conversely, your child may do exceptionally well in a school that doesn’t do that well overall, but it’s a smaller school and the close attention worked well for him but being small, it doesn't have the numbers to get a high average. Or maybe a school doesn't do well because that school was chosen for many kids because of the Reading Recovery programme, so because of a special support unit, the overall result may read badly, however, the improvement those kids made from Kindy to year 3 as a result of the programme means the school is actually EXCEPTIONAL in real individual terms.
It is the parents who have created this distortion, and decided it is not something useful and destroy the whole meaning of it. If you judge a school on it's NAPLAN results, you're not looking at your child and their individual needs. All decisions on school selection needs to look at the details, not the number at the end of the day.

The biggest disservice we have done to our children is telling them testing is wrong and unfair. If they can sit out this test, why not sit out the HSC? That's stressful, that doesn't take into account if you had breakfast, you may not do that well in it so don't bother turning up. At the youngest level, we've decided we should tell our children they can dismiss the relevance of tests.

I think parents around the country need to step up and start using their brains a little. In the same way a midyear report card is completely useless if it doesn't give you something to focus on improving for the rest of the year, NAPLAN is just a guideline. It's not saying you are hopeless and a failure, it's saying the child, or the school, needs to focus on improving these areas. Guess what, you have two years to do that before it's measured again, and that's a lot of time to work on improvement.

Don't ask the school why they didn't get a good NAPLAN result, ask the teachers what they will be doing to strengthen those areas. Isn't that a good thing? Naplan was never designed to rank schools, nor to rank children, so let's not create that outcome.

I know this is not a popular stance, so feel free to let me have it!


19 comments:

  1. My kids are all finished school now. They all had to do the NAPLAN tests and it didn't have any negative effect on any of the three of them having to do so. I don't like that NAPLAN results has seemed to become a thing people use to compare schools and decide which ones are better. You're right it wasn't designed to rank schools OR children but rather to as a guide as to where the curriculum or teaching could use some improvement. Perhaps they should review who sees the NAPLAN results?

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  2. My eldest has just finished the Naplan and they spent the entire week prior doing practice tests. He told me he was nervous about doing the tests in case he got a bad mark. Why do they worry the children when it is so unnecessary.
    I told him not to worry about it because at the end of the day it is only a test. It doesn't mark you on how good of a person you are, how much effort you put into everything else, how you go out of your way to help others. It is only a test!

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  3. This is a great post. Recently I heard of a girl's parents that didn't let her attend school recently to do the NAPLAN as she is behind in her studies. It totally plays into your thought process that they are making this a big deal, don't want their kid to fail and I'm not sure what happens now that the child hasn't done it. Well done on speaking up. Really interesting

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  4. I think everything you are saying makes complete sense. It makes me wonder what my daughter school does with the NAPLAN results, and what their lead up prep is like.

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  5. 2 of my kids have done napoleon this year and both thought it was pretty chilled. My eldest is Yr.9 and glad she never has to do it again and not because it was too hard, but it was annoying and disrupted her study. My youngest grade 3 had his first go and laughed all the way through it..

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  6. My kids are still only toddlers so we're not at this stage yet, but I've heard lots of horror stories about parents and teachers taking these tests ridiculously seriously. As you say NAPLAN is just a guideline, chill out!
    #TeamMM

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  7. My son is still too little but as digital editor for a magazine, this topic crossed my path many times and I was still unsure how to feel about it...but...I love your perspective and it has somewhat changed mine. Thanks!

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  8. Oh don't even get me started on bloody NAPLAN! hahaha.... I am dumbfounded at how much the media goes on about it as well which I just think adds to the stress and anxiety felt by parents and students. The pressure on teachers from above is ridiculous as well it is SHOULD NOT be used to rank schools, teachers, students anyone!! I heard someone on one of the morning shows and what she was saying about it was so wrong, and that't the other thing that adds to the hysteria..uninformed people thinking sharing their opinions!

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  9. I had never had an issue with Naplan at all. It is what it is. I think it's a decent measure of a book based learning environment. But I have an issue with how it is completely a reading based assessment. To do the tests you have to be able to read and write. With a son who has dyslexia it is not a true measure of his abilities. Even with a reader on board ... it just doesn't reflect what he has learned, what he knows and what is inside his brain. So he'll do NAPLAN but it goes straight in the bin when we receive it.

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  10. Hmmm. Speaking as a parent (not a teacher) I think it's okay to identify where a school needs to focus its energies but as it's one test on one day anything can happen. That's why formative assessment was introduced. One test doesn't prove a thing. I've seen really smart kids just have a bad day and leave the entire paper blank!

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  11. What a wonderfully pragmatic, common sense approach to this issue! People seem to get really hysterical about this, but I'm a big believer that academic success does not always ensure eventual success. Not everyone is academic. It doesn't mean they are going to fail at life. I am going to encourage my kids to pursue their passions and be guided by their personal strengths, even if they aren't academic ones.

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  12. Honestly I just wish everyone would stop downplaying the importance of any kind of assessment. On its own, NAPLAN is not the be all and end all, and neither are the assessments the teachers do before report time, but they are all assessments of progress and as such kids need to see them as important. Seeing them as important doesn't mean having a nervous breakdown about it, it just means doing the best work you can. My son did Grade 3 NAPLAN this year, and my daughter did it last year. I told both of them "You are capable of doing well in these tests, focus and put your best effort in." and that's all. I didn't do any prep with them because their teachers had familiarised them with the format of the tests, but i sure as hell wasn't going to let them get into the mindset that assessments don't matter because they don't measure every single thing about them.

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  13. You have put across such an excellent side to this story hun. I must admit I was a bit anti NAPLAN but more because of the pressure some individual teachers sometimes put on the kids but you have helped me to see the overall benefit so thank you xx

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  14. Seriously I can hardly be bothered to open my girls NAPLAN results....in the beginning of NAPLAN before it became studied for then yes it was useful but in the past few years since schools started studying and prepping for it then my opinion of it decreased dramatically

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  15. Great points and lots for me to think about for the future with my son! Thanks for sharing.

    SSG xxx

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  16. I have to admit I'm glad I wasn't really aware of tests like NAPLAN when I was a kid. I think I 'knew' there were tests which ranked us in some way as I remember a high school teacher chastising one of my friends... saying something about her impressive test scores at primary school and her wasted potential, but thankfully it wasn't a big thing!

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  17. What you say makes sense. At any rate NAPLAN isn't going anywhere for the time being so it might as well be used for good.

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  18. I cant believe I did not comment when you first posted this..ooops! Such a great perspective. Of course I have seen so many different sides to the NAPLAN story depending on which school, the culture, the parental pressures. I really love your balanced approach Lydia. Your kids are most fortunate. Thanks for linking up, this was worth the second read! Denyse #lifethisweek

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  19. I have told my daughters not to stress too much about their NAPLAN results so they are prepared.

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