Next week is NAPLAN (National Assessment Plan Literacy and Numeracy) week. Some parents, students and even teachers (none at MCC!) dislike the testing program. At MCC we embrace it for a few reasons:
1. It is an opportunity for our students to show what they are capable of;
2. It is an opportunity for our school to show that we are as good as other schools in the country, and
3. It is an opportunity for our teachers to demonstrate the value they are adding to the learning of your children.
4. It also informs our planning so we know what areas we need to focus on to improve the learning of our students.
Why literacy and numeracy and no other subjects? You need literacy and numeracy to learn every subject; these are tools for learning. The government can use the nation’s NAPLAN results to determine the health of Australia’s schools – we would say they are not doing their job properly if they didn’t do some kind of assessment into schooling, wouldn’t we?
Literacy and Numeracy are not the same as subject English and Mathematics. To be literate is to be able to draw on appropriate English language skills in different contexts. To be numerate is to be able to draw on appropriate Mathematics skills needed in different contexts. Being able to decide what a context needs, and make choices about all the English skills and all the Mathematics skills you’ve learned up to that point in time, is challenging. It is mostly about understanding contexts and choosing what language and maths skills to apply in different contexts.
If I really wanted to find out whether a student was numerate, I would follow them around and watch when they chose to use some maths skills and see whether the maths they chose was appropriate for the situation. Similarly for literacy; in situations that require some language to be used, what language skills do students choose to use? Clearly it is impossible to authentically assess student literacy and numeracy on a national scale. What the writers of the test attempt to do at least, is to ensure that questions are not ‘typical’ of what students in Australian schools generally experience in English and Mathematics lessons. They avoid using clues including words such as ‘add’, ‘subtract’, ‘multiply’ or even strategies and methodologies students might be familiar with.
This at least ensures that students have to choose which strategies, text types, operations and methods to use. They also have to clarify questions to determine which Mathematic skills they have learned in class to apply to the questions, or which English language skills they’ve learned in class to apply.
One of the many downsides of the NAPLAN Numeracy test is that students already know the test will assess their Mathematics, so they don’t have to make the decision about ‘whether some maths will help’ because they know it will; or ‘whether some language skills will help here’ because they know they will. This can’t be avoided.
Please support your children to do their best on the tests; don’t talk these important tests down. We know it might be stressful for some students but we can limit this through encouragement and high expectations. Students have been prepared well, especially with becoming familiar with the types of questions, test format and even with practicing against the clock. We expect them to do well and trust you do too.
Dr Thelma Perso
Director of Teaching and Learning