From the Principal

NAPLAN: Love the idea, not sure about the application

“It is evident that the NAPLAN rubric does not assess the skills and capacities needed to be a good creative writer. NAPLAN’s writing assessment criteria are flawed and limited. A student doesn’t have to be a good writer to score high marks. Conversely, a creative and innovative student could score poorly if marked by the current criteria.”
Dr Shelley Davidow,  Dr Michael Carey, University of the Sunshine Coast.

The idea that a standardised test could give schools individualised information on skills and/or lack of knowledge of foundational concepts like literacy and numeracy is a good one.

That idea eventually became NAPLAN.

For those just entering the education system: NAPLAN is a series of tests conducted in exam conditions. The tests occur across three days every second year of a child’s schooling, in years three, five, seven and nine.

And it has not been popular with many people:

  • In some schools students spend many hours practising and drilling mock tests and NAPLAN style questions in hope of scoring well in the assessments. As a result of all the focus, many students become disengaged in their learning and withdraw and become disinterested in their learning and the whole “NAPLAN thing”.
  • NAPLAN is one of the worst things we can do. It sets off school against school and parents against schools. We should be training children for the future and allow them more time for creative things as well as reading, writing and maths.
  • The 2010 decision to publish NAPLAN test results on the My School website allowed inter-school comparisons, and was a crucial factor in weaponising competition between government and non-government education sectors, and between various states.
  • It often results in a change in school and classroom culture, with an emphasis on teaching to the test instead of more appropriate teaching methods.
  • There have been numerous reports of students suffering from NAPLAN anxiety. Not all, of course, but why should we subject any children to needless anxiety?

Some people have found NAPLAN to be a niche business opportunity:

“A 2013 senate committee looked at a range of adverse consequences emerging from the NAPLAN, including the development of a NAPLAN preparation industry.”

Not everybody hates NAPLAN. Some of its defenders claim:

  • As an assessment tool it is an essential part of schooling. It serves many functions, but among them is providing data that can enable student improvement.
  • It enables the identification of problems in the education system over time and a means for evaluating potential solutions.
  • NAPLAN data can be used to identify students who are underperforming and in need of extra help at school, to ensure they do not fall behind in literacy and numeracy.
  • Without NAPLAN, there would be no standardised data by which to measure literacy and numeracy nationwide in a way that holds governments and schools to account for their results.

Personally and professionally, I am not going to take sides in this argument because:

  • NAPLAN is mandated for our school by the government, so we are required to “make it happen” or potentially have our funding questioned.
  • It may be an inexact tool in some areas (e.g. too narrow a skill set assessed) but it is a source of educational data that we can use to identify the students who may need extra help.
  • It provides us with the opportunity to see if our teaching practices have led to an improvement in foundation skills, like literacy and numeracy.

Basically, we don’t worry too much about cramming NAPLAN style learning, we are more interested in helping our students than making comparisons with other schools, and the so-called NAPLAN panic that other schools report, seems largely absent at St Columba.

In summary, NAPLAN is a tool that works pretty well when used for its original purpose but can lead to some “skinned knuckles” if wrongly used.

Therefore, we use NAPLAN along with a number of other assessments to ensure that we actually know which students need help.

NAPLAN is not the only tool in our educational kitbag. This is important because, in the words of Abraham Maslow, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

Not good!

Want to share your thoughts on this story, or do you have something you’d like to add? Email me at

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