What to make of the NAPLAN results?
This week, The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results have come out and will soon be in the hands of parents' with a child in grades 3, 5, 7 or 9. I have blogged before about the political nature of national testing in a broad post. Here, I would like to offer some thoughts on the good and bad of this testing regime:
Positive aspects of the NAPLAN:
- Possible formative use: Schools get access to a highly detailed report on each student. If they are up to analysing the data in such detail, they can find some of the misconceptions that individual students have;
- Good source of questions for classroom learning. I find some of the Maths questions quite clever and worthwhile using subsequently with the students. These tend to be questions that can be done using "first principles" rather than ones requiring the application of a specific technique.
- A peer into curriculum writers' minds: As soon as the "shaping papers" of the -yet to be implemented- national curriculum came out, you could see the NAPLAN test questions reflecting some of the principles reflected in those papers. For instance, the combination of Number and Algebra was quite evident in last year's NAPLAN test.
Negative aspects of the NAPLAN:
- They privilege two disciplines above all else: There are reports of schools dropping everything for weeks just to prepare their students for the NAPLAN. Since disciplines other than Mathematics and English are not tested, they get dropped.
- Some parents and students have a deterministic view of the results: There is a Simpsons episode about Lisa being told she would grow up to be a home maker based on an erroneous benchmarking test. This turns her from model student to one who would stoop down to the level of stealing and hiding the teacher's editions from the staff room. Naturally, this brings Springfield elementary to its knees.
- School comparisons and league tables: The myschool website publishes a school's aggregate results and compares them with those of "comparable schools". As you can imagine, some tabloids use this information to create league tables that include schools from very different demographics.
- Results come out too late for schools to act: The results are released very late in the academic year. This is especially problematic in states where year 7 is the last year of primary school. The students won't even be there the following year and the school hardly has a chance to make formative use of the results.