Parents backing NAPLAN as a guide to children’s progress is a very understandable thing. As parents, we are sometimes unsure of whether the school is giving us the honest information about our children. Having an organisation external to the school doing a check gives us an independent measure of both our child and the success of our school. It seems simple, but the concept of NAPLAN has a raft of unintended consequences that should be considered.

NAPLAN is Inaccurate

The NAPLAN test uses a small number of questions to assess students on a particular week each year. The nature of this means that individual students’ results can be inaccurate. The child may have had a distracting event in their life that week, or they might be a little unwell, or they had a late basketball game the night before, etc. It might also be that one class just happened to focus on one of the areas in the test the week before while another class was going to do it next week and this also skews the results.(See here for more:

As the number of students goes up, the overall accuracy of the results improves as these anomalies get absorbed in the larger numbers. NAPLAN gives accurate information for a state or the country as a whole but is less accurate at a school or individual level.

NAPLAN Causes School Panic

Because school results are readily available to parents, schools have become very concerned about NAPLAN results. Apart from the inaccuracies outlined above, it is right that schools should be concerned, but what schools actually do about this is sometimes alarming.

If a school is worried about poor NAPLAN results, you would think it would lead to them reviewing their teaching and learning practices and making long term plans to improve things. The NAPLAN tests could then be used as a benchmark for the success of those changes. This would be a fantastic result and does happen in some cases. (See here for more:

For many other schools, though, this worry only makes things worse. The school, worried about losing students, tries to game the system. They do this by spending weeks before the NAPLAN tests giving their students practice on sitting the tests. This gaming of the test leads the school to get inaccurate results and the NAPLAN test grows to become a stressful event for the student. (Read more here

Students see themselves as failures
Our schooling system uses a method of teaching where all students are expected to be doing the same work based on their grade level. There are many reasons for this, with the main one being economics – it is just too expensive to provide appropriate learning to every student individually. The NAPLAN testing measures students’ progress in this system. To be fair, it does measure across several levels, but this does not help struggling students much. Struggling students exist in this system that constantly tells them that they are not smart because they are not at the level of other students in the class. For such students, NAPLAN testing gives them an external opinion that confirms their self-belief that they are just dumb