Does NAPLAN really matter?

18 February 2017
18 February 2017 The Alchemy Team

There are about 12 weeks until the NAPLAN exams, and already we’ve noticed a surge in parents requesting a tutor to help prepare their child for the exam.

NAPLAN exams are a polarising thing. Some parents place a huge amount of value on it, whilst others don’t pay attention to it at all. I’ve even met some parents who won’t let their children sit them to avoid the associated stress and anxiety (which they are perfectly entitled to do).

The reality is there is a lot of pressure around NAPLAN exams – especially for students in years 3 and 5. They hear about NAPLAN from their teachers, families and even on the news, so whilst they may not fully understand what it is, they know it is a big deal. I’ve worked with students as young as year 3 who were genuinely stressing out about the exam – which is so concerning to see from someone at that age.

This brings to question – does NAPLAN really matter? Is there even a point behind it?

Here are some thoughts on this:

It is a great opportunity to see how your child handles the testing environment – but standardised testing always has its limitations.

For students in years 3, 5 and 7, the testing environment of NAPLAN will be a unique experience. There aren’t too many opportunities before high school for students to pile in to a silent hall or classroom and be told to sit there quietly for the entirety of the exam. They colour in little bubbles with a pencil and hope that their choice is the best answer. Exam management is a skill that needs to be learnt – as it is something they will get very used to beyond year 7. If they can handle this environment well, they are more likely to excel in exams later on in High School.

However, so often we see that NAPLAN does not reflect the true potential of a student, and this is usually because of the black and white nature of standardised testing. It is right and wrong with no room for discussion in between. Some students just don’t handle this well – they will see multiple possibilities instead of one clear answer (ironically a great skills set to have later in life), but this style of exam punishes this way of thinking.

It reveals how they are placed in their grade – although, school reports do this much better.

NAPLAN is about comparison – which can be a helpful tool – but is not always healthy. I’ve seen too many students lose their confidence after getting a disappointing NAPLAN result and realising they are in the bottom quartile of their school. If this can be used as a motivator then I think it has plenty of value – but unfortunately that might only be the case for the top 50% of students.

A far better indicator is the end of year report. Unlike NAPLAN which attempts to identify your child after an hour of colouring in multiple choice bubbles, the report will take in to consideration what your child has accomplished throughout the year. It will allow them to explore different skills and find their strengths and identify their weaknesses.

When given a choice between a NAPLAN report and a school report to indicate a student’s true performance, I always choose the school report.

It shows where they are in the state – but this can be so heavily swayed it can be hard to find benefit.

It can be helpful to see where your student performs against other students their age, but this needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

There are so many unknown external factors that can influence these rankings.

For example, how can a small rural school with one class per grade be compared to a huge private school in the eastern suburbs with endless resources. I’ve heard of many schools doing weeks of NAPLAN preparation to boost their school’s mark (therefore being more attractive to potential students in the future) – whilst some won’t even mention it until the day before. I’ve even heard stories of – and this is terrible – some school asking students not to turn up on NAPLAN days to prevent them bringing down their school average.

The one good thing it does, and in my opinion the best thing NAPLAN does, is reveal what your child should know at their relevant level. NAPLAN is not like the selective school exam – it is very possible for a student to get 100%, and the exams are written to make this achievable. Adhering to the national curriculums, each exam should only test students up to what they should already know, so the papers are a great indication of where your child is placed based against the content taught in previous years.

In my opinion, NAPLAN has value; in introducing young students to exam environments and in seeing if they are up to date with the curriculum at their level – but I think the idea of using it to compare one student to others is flawed.

The main thing you want to see is year on year improvement from your child. You want to be able to compare their year 5 and year 7 papers, and see an improvement in year 7. The best comparative is always against ourselves, and this way you are using your own child as the benchmark. Their little black dot should be higher on the chart than last time – that way you know they have improved.

We can help make that little black dot higher. The support of a private tutor is the very best thing you can do for your child in the lead up to NAPLAN – they will grow in confidence, get accustomed to the styles of questions, and ultimately walk in to (and out of) that exam with their head held high.
Considering a tutor for your child? We can help! We have amazing tutors ready to go that will help your child grow in confidence, love the learning experience and ultimately realise what they are capable of. Learn more here and book their first lesson online today!

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