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NAPLAN solution to keep everyone happy



There is so much controversy and general noise around NAPLAN that for many years principals have been calling for the tests to be conducted by sampling student attainment rather than the whole-scale testing that occurs.It is a call we support at the Australian Primary Principals Association, as it would provide the educational baseline the government seeks without the disruption of all students having to be tested, while also removing the inter-school competition around NAPLAN scores.I find it distressing to see real estate being marketed on the basis of homes’ proximity to schools with “high” NAPLAN results – as if this is a definitive characteristic of guaranteed success at school.There are so many factors and variables in the life and organisation of a school that the use of NAPLAN scores as a point of comparison between them, and likely outcomes for children, is simplistic beyond description.By taking the heat out of NAPLAN, we can then begin to look at other key areas of improvement to our education system, such as the important question of how schools are funded, which is today largely dependent on the enrolment numbers.This is a particular issue for small to medium-sized schools, which may see a significant fall in funding by a reduction in enrolments of as little as 10-15 students, leading to differing class years being forced to merge, or critical development programs such as dance and drama dumped.Our schools need certainty, which can be delivered through a multi-year guarantee of funding, enabling them to continue to invest in support programs, teacher teaming, student-teacher learning relationships, and overall school development.Such measures provide a much more positive effect than NAPLAN testing, which requires a change in community perception of what NAPLAN actually advises, which is little that assists your child in your school.Schools use far more effective measures than NAPLAN every day with your children’s work and progress collected, collated, recorded and discussed among teachers along with constant monitoring and assessment of their progress.Such assessments go far beyond anything NAPLAN can deliver, as literacy, numeracy and a range of other learning areas and capabilities, including the development of your child’s social skills, are constantly assessed.It happens not only in schools but across schools. Teachers often point to this process, called moderation, as being among the most practical and effective professional learning they do.For parents who obsess about NAPLAN, consider that every year schools’ final assemblies, awards and recognition ceremonies are crowded with families who come to see their children perform in choirs, play in bands, dance, enjoy art exhibitions and the like, with the children’s success gauged by their enjoyment, belonging and participation.No one gives the remotest thought to what the children’s NAPLAN scores were. Yet somehow NAPLAN has become the highest profile element of Australian school education.In its current form NAPLAN is creating rifts in the community with claims that criticism of it is somehow an attempt by our trained, experienced education professionals to dodge accountability and responsibility for children’s learning outcomes.Nothing could be further from the truth. What educators are saying is that NAPLAN is useful but that its use lies in being another piece of evidence in student progress, and should not be the definitive element.It has been interesting that, under the pressure of the Covid circumstances, universities in offering places for study have turned to school teacher judgment of students’ attainment and capabilities.It makes sense that the students’ teachers have professional insight into what the students know and are able to do, given that teachers are constantly giving accounts on student progress to senior leaders and principals.Our senior school staff work tirelessly with teachers on personal professional development plans. These are in use across all sectors in one form or another, and are integral to schools’ management of high-calibre teacher development.No one is more accountable for student outcomes than the school principals. Every school principal in Australia carries responsibilities according to the various Acts, other laws, policies and rules that exist to underpin high-quality education.System leaders, school boards, parent associations, parents and the students themselves hold principals to account.Sample testing is already in use for Science literacy, Information Communication Technology literacy, andCivics and Citizenship.After years of high-stakes NAPLAN, it is time to move to sampling of NAPLAN, which will be more targeted and less universally disruptive to the lives of the students and the education programs of schools.Malcolm Elliott is president of the Primary Principals Association

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