Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
May is NAPLAN month in schools. It’s a time when NAPLAN workbooks and ‘how to’ guides take centre stage in bookstores, coaching clinics attract more students and anxiety begins to build among parents and students. It’s also a time when schools and school systems feel like their work comes under the microscope. Then there’s the long wait between the tests and the release of results when everyone hopes there has been student and school improvement.
Like many in education, I continue to ask myself how a test that was intended to measure a student’s progress in reading, writing, grammar and numeracy at a nominated moment in time could generate such heated debate. None of this can be healthy particularly for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 about to sit the tests.
When I was teaching, we had the Basic Skills Test (BST) in NSW, which provided teachers with a snapshot of a student’s progress in literacy and numeracy. Unlike NAPLAN, the BST was low-key and never used to compare or judge students, teachers or schools. There was general agreement that the BST provided useful feedback for teachers in terms of the areas for improvement or intervention.
Unfortunately the publication of NAPLAN results and the use of these results to make blunt comparisons between schools has created more fear than understanding. Any standardised test must be viewed in the context of each learning community and reviewed in terms of its reliability. It is only one tool and it isn’t the only tool for identifying where there are gaps in student learning.
While NAPLAN’s future is unclear, I think it is vital that schools continue to have a clear understanding of how each child is progressing and not just in literacy and numeracy. Whatever may follow from NAPLAN needs to harness the power of today’s technologies to allow teachers to be able to access data and track student progress in real time in order to make better and faster decisions that lead to improved learning.
Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta