Monday, November 26, 2012

Testing the Test: NAPLAN Makes For Stressed Kids and a Narrow Curriculum

Queensland Teachers' Union reps at Queensland ...
Queensland Teachers' Union reps at Queensland Industrial Relations Commission conference, re: NAPLAN testing (Photo credit: David Jackmanson)
by Nicky Dulfer, Academic, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne, The Conversation:

NAPLAN tests - the literacy and numeracy tests given to primary and secondary students - are causing health problems and promoting a culture of “teaching to the test”.

A national study released today surveyed around 8,300 teachers and found the tests had unintended consequences, particularly on how the curriculum was taught, student health and school reputation.

Melbourne University’s Nicky Dulfer discusses the findings below.

What are the major findings in the study?

The major findings can be broken down into four key areas. The first major finding is around the fact that teachers are really unsure as to the purpose of NAPLAN.

We asked teachers and educators across the whole of the nation: what do you think NAPLAN is for? And they think it’s a school ranking tool, they thinking it’s a method of policing school performance. Some say it might be a diagnostic tool but that it doesn’t quite fit that role. So there’s some confusion about what the purpose of NAPLAN is.

The second finding is to do with enrolments. And the idea that if you were a school that got poor results in NAPLAN, or poorer than expected results in a NAPLAN test, how that might affect your school.

And teachers felt overwhelmingly that it could affect media reporting about the school, which would affect the reputation of the school, how parents felt about the school, how staff felt, the morale of the students and the staff and also it could affect the school’s ability to attract and retain teachers and students.

We also asked about areas around health and well-being. But teachers were only allowed to talk about students who had reported issues or parents who had reported issues. We didn’t want teachers to say “I’ve heard about issues”, they needed to have hard evidence.

And they reported that they had a number of students who said they were feeling stressed, there were students that were concerned they were too dumb to sit the NAPLAN.

There was a fear of parents' reactions to the test results, if the school performed lower than expected. There were some teachers who reported that kids do feel sick before the test or freeze during the test. There’s some sleeplessness and some crying.

Teachers also responded with anecdotes in that section - there were many stories of kids not wanting to go to school and things like that.

The final area that we looked into and asked teachers about is the one that teachers have the most control over and are also the people that know the most about it. And that is the impact of the testing on curriculum and teaching.

And we asked them what the impacts on the curriculum and teaching are, and there were some very strong results about the fact that NAPLAN preparation is taking up a lot of time in a crowded curriculum, that there are other curriculum areas that are seen as not as important because they’re not tested. That they teach more to the test, so they make sure that they cover the knowledge that’s on the test, and that means that they’re not teaching other things.

It has actually reduced the amount of face-to-face talking time they have with their students and it’s narrowed the range of teaching strategies.

We also asked them about how they were able to use the NAPLAN results and how useful it was. One of the overwhelming responses was that it comes through so late, that it’s not as useful as they would like. They can’t use it as a diagnostic tool.

So predominantly they said they looked through the data and they checked if there were any surprises - if students were performing well-above expected or well-below expected.

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