Last week at the parent, student and teacher meetings I was asked why we make such a big fuss of NAPLAN.
The question was raised as the perception was it caused so many students trauma. I was taken aback by this comment – for the first time this year we had very few students who were ‘traumatised’ by the tests, due to our preparation over many months helping students get used to the format of the questions, how to solve problems and how to pace themselves. I assured that if there was trauma it wasn’t coming from our teachers to my knowledge and that the generalisation ‘so many students’ was not correct for MCC, though it might have been true for other schools or for students nationally.
Parents however, need to know that IT IS A BIG DEAL! The tests are developed by experts who take a whole year to develop each tests. I assure staff constantly that they are the best literacy and numeracy tests they are likely to come across in the course of their career. More importantly, they exemplify the national standard of what is expected of students in these two capabilities.
Note that it is not possible to fail a NAPLAN test; each test is set around a national benchmark which indicates the standard that students of that particular age (Year 3, 5, 7, or 9) should be above if they are to be able to access the eight learning areas. Numeracy and Literacy are not subjects; they are capabilities.
Students are not able to understand and learn the material and concepts of the eight learning areas unless they can read, write and have mathematical understandings to make sense of the maths embedded in each learning area. This is why literacy and numeracy are tested rather than each of the eight learning areas.
As well as a national minimum standard, in Western Australia we also have a requirement that students attain Band 8 in reading, writing and numeracy by Year 9 in order to attain their Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE) or to graduate from secondary school at the end of Year 12. If students don’t attain Band 8 or better in the Year 9 NAPLAN tests, they must sit the Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA) every six months from Year 10 to Year 12 until they do.
That is why NAPLAN is a big deal. If students can’t demonstrate literate and numerate behaviours and understandings to the required standard by Year 12, they will not graduate from school. This could mean they will need to repeat years of schooling and, at the very least, their access to higher qualifications and employment will be at risk.
To be above the minimum Year 3 benchmark, then the Year 5 benchmark, and the Year 7 and 9 benchmarks similarly, cannot occur through a ‘last minute spurt’, but ideally follows a regular trajectory, being above the benchmark every time they sit a test in two year intervals.
Parents need to encourage their children to do well and to show teachers (and the nation) that they are meeting national standards. It is imperative that teachers know which areas students need help with, in order for students to remain on the trajectory that the nation expects for all children. It is understood that some students dislike tests and are even ‘traumatised’ by them, however tests are an important part of life that they cannot be shielded from; you need to sit a test to gain a driver’s license or even to get a job at a fast-food outlet.
Please help us to help your children; don’t play NAPLAN down in your household – it is a big deal!
Dr Thelma Perso
Director of Teaching and Learning