Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

Putting NAPLAN into perspective

This week our Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 students have been busy participating in the annual NAPLAN tests. NAPLAN stands for the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy and involves a series of tests which are conducted at these year levels around the nation. Our students sit multiple choice tests in reading, conventions of language and numeracy and also sit a writing test. 

Like with many international jurisdictions who conduct similar high-stakes standardised tests, NAPLAN has often become politicised, with proponents who believe that it delivers accountability around minimum education standards and opponents who tend to argue that the tests measure the wrong things and are misused to pressure teachers to adopt sub-optimal teaching strategies.

In my view, there is much to be gained from collating data on student progress and the NAPLAN is very useful in its offering of bench-marked assessments and a range of data tools which can be used as one of many measures of how students are progressing. However, when the outcomes of such tests are overemphasised by those who wish to create league-tables or the tying of funding to performance, there can be counter-productive outcomes. 

In the worst cases are the reports of schools who bow to perceived pressure, discard preferred curriculum and instead, teach to the test. 

Many years ago, the teachers of St Paul’s Primary in Queensland wrote to their students regarding the limitations of such approaches and why they embrace a more holistic view of student success. They wrote: “The people who score these tests don’t know that some of you love to sing, are good at drawing or can teach others how to use a computer program … They can’t tell you that you have improved on something you once found difficult. They can’t tell you that you brighten up your teacher’s day. They can’t tell how amazingly special you are.”

At King David, we view our students’ NAPLAN results as one of many data points that are used instrumentally to enhance our understanding of our students. Some of these include assessments like test results. Others, relate to teacher observations and participation in the wide range of activities that the School works so hard to make available to benefit our students. 

We believe that when we truly know our students, we are positioned to offer the appropriate opportunities and interventions which allow them to meet the next crucial development stage in their learning both within and outside of the classroom.

We have developed a sophisticated suite of analytical tools that we use to measure individual and collective achievement. The aim of this is to constantly adjust our teaching approach in order to determine when and where extra reinforcement may be required and to ensure that we are equipped to facilitate our students to delve more deeply into areas of interest or special capability.

Like many educational debates, the annual discussion of NAPLAN tends to lack the requisite nuance which accepts both the utility and the limitations of this particular set of standardised tests.

Thankfully, at King David we work hard on ensuring a strong partnership exists between our teachers, students and parents which we leverage to achieve the best learning outcomes. 

As such, we benefit from the trust of our community and pride in the purposeful evidence-based learning programs we offer.

I believe that our community understands and appreciates our commitment to utilising whatever tools are available to us in order to constantly improve our teaching and learning approach. Ultimately the annual analysis of NAPLAN is just one of many such tools that we can use in furtherance of this mission.

Shabbat Shalom,
Marc Light