Why NAPLAN Ticks The Boxes For Students And Teachers

It’s around this point of the year that discussions around NAPLAN, the problem with our education system and the sufferances of teachers come to light.

As the results period of NAPLAN arrives the time is nigh for panic.

As a teacher, I can understand this.

NAPLAN can be a really daunting, scary, anxiety riddled thing. Especially if we don’t know how it is being used, what these scores mean, what it is telling us about our kids or what it actually means to schools.

The thing is, we all know the issues with any sort of big-stakes test trying to compare people from all sorts of social, cultural, economic, developmental and academic backgrounds... it cannot cater for them all.

We know it is only one test, completed on one day.

We know it can cause stress, anxiety and a sense of uncertainty for our students.

We all know about the stress and anxiety brought by NAPLAN, but how can the test be used as an effective tool? (Image: Getty Images)

We know it can lead to people focusing purely on the test and not meaningful learning.

We know its purpose in education seems to be completely lost or unneeded.

But, while my 10 years of teaching has seen many examples of issues with NAPLAN -- including heartbreaking times of a student having a panic attack, supporting staff who are so stressed with appearing like they can’t teach, or those numerous Year 5 students who have told us in various ways, ‘I just don’t want to let down Mum and Dad’ -- I still have to say I can see a role for NAPLAN.

(Hold your pitchforks.)

If, and this is a BIG IF, we have people in our schools, systems and governments helping our teachers, students and families realise what we can actually get out of NAPLAN.

So, for all those parents and teachers out there, what is actually worthwhile about NAPLAN?

It has a real potential to provide schools, regions and states with trends and information about strengths and areas of concern for learning. Used effectively, we can grab the worthwhile information sitting within it to direct and build up our teachers to build up their students -- because our teachers are the most important resource for success in a school (after students, of course!)

Like any worthwhile test, it can provide us with information about where students are coming from, where they are at and where next for their learning.

Just imagine it: Schools understanding what the trends are within their local area and within their school. Schools seeing the connections and trends within year levels over years.

Whilst we might think there are better or worse cohorts, it can be hard to argue against the data over five-10 years.  If we watch and analyse the results of Year 3s in a school we can see possible needs and areas of strength in our early years.

Watching and comparing Year 5 results against Year 3 results can assist us with starting to think about what we are doing well, or need to provide greater support in, within our middle levels. We can do the same for Year 7 and Year 9 too. If we are supported with expertise, time and resources.

Comparing NAPLAN results across different years can yield a wealth of valuable information on how we can improve learning, and highlight areas we need to focus on. (Image: Getty Images)

It’s important to pause here, because if you read that above paragraph in the way I was intending, you would have picked up that the focus isn’t on pointing fingers and ridiculing teachers or schools. It is about noticing strengths AND areas for future learning that we can support.

Because every school and every learner needs support in some area. Every school has strengths and areas of pride that need to be acknowledge and tapped into too.

So, what can we as parents and teachers actually do? It starts with getting the right people to help us.

It’s about starting a discussion (read: not a yelling match) at your school about who the people are that are looking and digging through the NAPLAN information. Some schools call them Learning and Teaching Leaders, Curriculum Specialists, Data Analysts, Deputy Principal & Assessment Legends or possibly Assessment Gurus.

Whatever their titles are, the main thing you need to know is that there should be people in your school who understand why we do NAPLAN, what the worthwhile information is within it and, most importantly, what they need to do next once they have that worthwhile information.

Data analysts are key in finding the essential information from NAPLAN, which makes it an important comparative tool.  (Image: Getty Images)

These Assessment Gurus/Data Specialists/Learning Leaders are the people who take NAPLAN from just a one-off test and instead understand how it can become a part of a bigger picture for real learning at our schools. These educators who can read, interpret and explain the important information sitting within any school-based or national test are critical.

They are the ones who compare and check the trends in NAPLAN against what they are seeing within and across classrooms throughout terms. They are the ones informing the other leaders about areas of strength to celebrate and acknowledge, as well as areas of concern that shape future learning for all staff and students.

Because, that’s the role of assessment - to help us see where we are at and where we need to go. NAPLAN is only one port of call for this, but when used properly it can add some detail to picture of our schools - if we have the right people, with the right skills there.

And if we don’t? Well, that’s an immediate next step in learning for our schools.

I know NAPLAN can seem like a fearsome enemy who only seems to attack us –  for many of us right now, it is. However, if we can get more school and system leaders to help us all use it to properly inform our communities it might become more like that slightly annoying cousin from out of town who only visits once a year.