Monday, December 3, 2012

NAPLAN Myths: It’s Not a High-Stakes Test

Queensland Teachers' Union reps at Queensland ...
Queensland Teachers' Union reps at Queensland Industrial Relations Commission conference re NAPLAN testing, 100419 (Photo credit: David Jackmanson)
by Professor Barry McGaw, Vice-Chancellor's Fellow, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne, The Conversation:

There has been much controversy this week over a study released by the Whitlam Institute claiming that NAPLAN testing is being treated as a high-stakes program that is causing unnecessary stress among students and distorting the school curriculum across Australia.

But NAPLAN is not high stakes nor is testing students’ competence in basic skills new in Australia. It’s time to set the record straight about the purpose and role of NAPLAN in Australian schools.

Nothing new

NAPLAN tests students over a few hours spread out over a few days, four times from year 3 to year 9. The tests are not onerous and not high-stakes.

Their primary purpose is to give parents information on how well their children are developing fundamental skills in literacy and numeracy from a broader perspective than individual teachers and schools have.

The test results can reassure parents or alert them to problems, and provide a basis on which parents can have an informed discussion with teachers.

New South Wales introduced basic skills tests in 1989, with all other states and territories following suit. During the Howard years, David Kemp, Federal Minister for Education, made the assessment of all students and reporting to their parents a condition for some federal funds.

Later, the Council of Education Ministers directed that the results of the separate state and territory assessments be expressed on a common scale. In early 2007, with Julie Bishop as the federal minister, the Council agreed to use common assessments.

Off the back of these developments, the first NAPLAN tests were created in 2007 and used in 2008.

Testing misconceptions

But prior to NAPLAN, there had been high-stakes, state-wide examinations at the end of primary school and in middle and at the end of secondary school. All of them controlled access to the next level of education but were abolished when they lost that function.

The only high-stakes assessments in Australia now are end-of-year 12 assessments, and the voluntary entry tests for selective schools and scholarship tests for non- government schools. Teacher organisations resisted each new development in literacy and numeracy testing but, after two decades, the tests had become well-established and non-controversial.

The new round of opposition from teachers comes because the results are now publicly reported. NAPLAN provides information not only on students but also on schools. If NAPLAN is being made high-stakes for students, with some reported to be anxious and even ill when the tests approach, this is due to teachers transferring stress to their students.

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