Some of the nation’s education ministers have united to push for changes to the controversial testing system in schools known as NAPLAN.
They believe the testing has strayed from its original purpose of helping teachers improve student learning to become a “major event” in the school calendar.
NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes does not believe NAPLAN is functioning as a simple check of student literacy and numeracy for teachers and schools.
“I think what was designed to be a simple check-up has become a major operation,” Mr Stokes said.
“A number of my colleagues in different governments across the nation are keen to review the process to try to make it as simple, as clear, as flexible, and as responsive to the needs of teachers as possible.”
His South Australian counterpart, Susan Close, said: “The whole focus among teachers, among parents, and among students has created an environment of high stress and concern around the test itself.”
Ms Close chairs the Education Council, which is made up of all the state ministers and the federal Education Minister. She said NAPLAN was being actively discussed.
“It is absolutely time to have another look at NAPLAN,” Ms Close said.
“We’ve been talking about the need to have a review of NAPLAN, to have a discussion about NAPLAN, particularly in the way in which it’s used for reporting on schools and reporting on states.”
There’s an ‘obsession with reporting NAPLAN’
Ms Close is concerned test results and the creation of league tables was leading parents to make “errors of judgment” about the performance of schools.
“I think the high stakes of NAPLAN has come out of this obsession with reporting NAPLAN and judging schools on their NAPLAN results,” Ms Close said.
What is NAPLAN and is it important?
- The National Assessment Program tests the literacy and numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9
- Students cannot pass or fail the assessment
- The annual testing is designed to help governments and schools gauge whether students are meeting key educational outcomes
- The results help identify strengths and address areas that need to be improved
- Schools and parents can see how an individual student’s learning is tracking compared to their classmates and the national average
“We’re all agreed that it can be useful diagnostically. [But] its use for reporting, its use for having league tables of schools, is highly questionable.”
Mr Stokes said he was concerned that businesses were also profiting from excessive focus on the tests.
“The stakes have become higher … we’ve now got commercial interests publishing guides about how to pass NAPLAN,” he said.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham indicated he was not open to any significant change to the national tests.
“NAPLAN is being constantly reviewed and refined and there’s already been a number of studies and reports on NAPLAN as well as two parliamentary committee inquiries,” Senator Birmingham said in a statement.
“It’s up to people calling for a review to make their case to the Education Council but what parents tell me is they want to see more information on student and school performance, not less.”
Queensland leads push for review
The push to review NAPLAN began in Queensland, where new Education Minister Grace Grace was under pressure from the state’s teachers’ union to ban NAPLAN testing online.
In a recent Queensland Teachers’ Union ballot, 95 per cent of public school teachers said they wanted a national review. And late last year the union issued an industrial directive to its members not to co-operate with school readiness testing for NAPLAN online.
Ms Grace told the ABC it was timely to review NAPLAN.
“What I am hearing from many parents and teachers is a wide variety of views,” she said.
“I want to have a look at how NAPLAN is being delivered in our classrooms and whether children are actually benefitting from the NAPLAN tests.”
NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron said any NAPLAN review must be led by teachers.
“It’s time now, I think, to review NAPLAN and see it for what it is — a very crude, unsophisticated, expensive and highly inaccurate test.”
“We’d like to see a review that comes up with an assessment regime that’s closely aligned with curriculum and what’s happening in the classroom so that we can provide rich information to parents.”
Results ‘don’t need to be in the public domain’
It’s not only public school teachers that are pushing for change.
The Australian Parents Council (APC), which represents parents of children at Catholic and independent schools, said NAPLAN results should be provided to parents and not published online.
“APC supports a review of NAPLAN,” president Shelley Hill said.
“APC has long held the view that public reporting of the NAPLAN results can cause stress and confusion for parents and students.
“Parents need to know in the first instance how their child is faring against literacy and numeracy standards, and also how their school is tracking but it doesn’t have to be in the public domain.”
Ministers from Queensland, South Australia and NSW said they wanted NAPLAN on the agenda at the next Education Council meeting in May.