It seems that many of us have forgotten what the point of NAPLAN is. (Pic: iStock)
It seems that many of us have forgotten what the point of NAPLAN is. (Pic: iStock)

NAPLAN focus has become hysterical and demented

BLAMING NAPLAN for our school students' poor showing in writing is like blaming the scales for showing a weight gain or the mirror for revealing an unattractive face.

It is a snapshot, a look-in.

It is not the only measure of achievement, the ultimate judgment or a definitive assessment of a student's station in life.

It was not designed for that.

Where NAPLAN is concerned, perhaps everybody just needs to calm down a bit.

NAPLAN is the canary in the coalmine, as it were: that is what it was designed to be.

But the focus on the test itself has become demented and hysterical - from the top down.

Our already-overloaded teachers are being pressured by their bosses to gear their lesson plans towards it to improve their schools' on-paper performance.

Its placement on MySchool means that parents are given the idea that it is legitimate to use the school's students' results to judge the institution.

The forensic inspection of the test's content and mode of delivery has meant the forest is obscured by the trees.

The test should not be the focus; the concern should be that fewer of our younger high school students are able to write as well as they should.

The test shouldn’t be the focus; the concern should be that fewer of our high school students are able to write as well as they should. (Pic: iStock)
The test shouldn’t be the focus; the concern should be that fewer of our high school students are able to write as well as they should. (Pic: iStock)

The ability to express thought clearly in broadly understood writing is a skill essential to success in all lines of work, one way or another.

But this year's NAPLAN results show that on the day of testing, writing levels of Year 9s were at their lowest since NAPLAN testing began.

Calls for NAPLAN to be abandoned because there had been no improvement in some states such as NSW and a backslide in others including Queensland is tantamount to suggesting we throw out a thermometer because it shows our summers are getting hotter.

It is a measure, not a method.

Of course, finding ways to help our children achieve better levels of understanding in the basic areas of formal education is vital.

Targeting better education leads to better economic development of a country, advancement of a society broadly and greater personal opportunities for the kids themselves.

The emphasis on and use of NAPLAN in ways it was not meant for, including putting it on the MySchool site and giving parents the idea that it is concerned with ranking schools according to achievement rather than assessing how well the students are hitting quite easy targets, is cockeyed.

Teachers say that the pressure to teach to the test has resulted in skewed weighting and the inclusion of some less important material at the expense of meaningful content.

Of course, our children's slipped performance in writing indicates a need for introspection and readjustment of content and delivery.

Our children’s slipped performance in writing indicates a need for introspection and readjustment of content and delivery. (Pic: iStock)
Our children’s slipped performance in writing indicates a need for introspection and readjustment of content and delivery. (Pic: iStock)

Better teaching is part of that recipe for success and that includes raising the bar for teaching entry at tertiary institutions as well as urgently de-cluttering teachers' overcrowded schedules.

But endlessly reviewing the test - it has been reviewed three times in different ways recently - is not in itself going to change anything in terms of outcome.

In the hubbub, it should be noted that our students' overall basic literacy and numeracy skills have shown an improvement.

Granted, 10 years ago they were at a fairly low base, but bouquets should also be awarded if brickbats are being so liberally thrown.

Boycotting the test is not an option either.

Despite being compulsory, this year's test scores show one in 20 Queensland Year 3 students did not sit the reading component - almost twice the national average. And the withdrawal rate from the Year 9 test was even higher: 7.9 per cent, compared with a national average of 3.2 per cent.

Withdrawal from the numeracy elements was similar.

Perhaps it is a matter of shifting perspective: instead of seeing NAPLAN as the problematic interloper, perhaps it could be reframed as shedding light on the rather dismal state of our children's understanding.

In broad daylight, truth can be uncomfortable, particularly when it exposes fragility and failure.

But it also offers ample opportunity for improvement.

Cast in that light, maybe we should be thankful for NAPLAN.

Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton is a journalist and University of the Sunshine Coast journalism lecturer.



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