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The biggest problem with NAPLAN is that there seems to be no plan at all


For a test supposedly aimed at creating an even playing field in education, the controversial NAPLAN test certainly attracts its share of division – and inequity – writes Madonna King

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WHEN a 10-year-old vomits ahead of an exam, you know there is something amiss.

When a 14-year-old is told to skip school, and she suspects it’s because she might bring the mark of her cohort down on a standardised test, you know something is awry.

When teachers, in some schools, put the curriculum aside to practice, and practice and practice tests, you know something is wrong.

And when the hottest item at the local bookstore is a practice NAPLAN test, you know this is as much a test for parents as it is for their children.

The NAPLAN test, assessing abilities across literacy, writing, numeracy and language convention, is being sat by one million year 3, 5, 7 and 9 Australian students this week.

And it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Teachers know that. Schools know that. Academics know that. Researchers know that. And parents, who are helping game the system, know that too.

But still we persist.

Sam and Kim picked 33 strawberries together. Kim picked 9 more strawberries than Sam. How many strawberries did Kim pick?

Congratulations. If you passed that, you got one question right in a year 3 numeracy test.

Of course, it gets harder, as you climb the years. In year 7, it is more like this: Glen has 6 cups of sugar. A biscuit recipe uses 3/4 of a cup of sugar for each batch. What is the greatest number of batches Glen can make?

Here’s a hint. The answer is either 6, 6.75, 7.5 or 8.

What does that prove?

In theory, the tests are to unearth systemic problems in different schools and regions and states, so that they can be addressed.

In theory. The problem is that the inequities in the education system set the tests up to fail, before they’re even written.

For example, the results of the tests are not known for months and months, preventing any change for that year cohort – and the next year’s class might be entirely different.

How does the test give an accurate picture when some children are told to stay away, others choose to stay at home, and when the Queensland Teachers’ Union is actively asking its members to ensure their children don’t participate?

How do you compare classes and schools, when some practice and re-practice tests, and others haven’t seen the format before being told the clock has started, and they have 45 minutes to finish?

And yet, despite all the evidence each year, we line up again to put our children through hell, knowing “the band’’ where their marks fall should mean nothing.

And yet, when we apply to a new school in year 5 or 7, what are we asked? Where’s their NAPLAN results? Bring them along.

Indeed, in one boys’ school recently, a child was told his NAPLAN results were behind the decision not to offer him a place. It is my prayer that that young lad, who still hasn’t had his first pimple, ends up running a school or a company or a hospital.

Because there is nothing in his results that proves he will not.

The only upside, I can see, is the employment in the tutoring industry; with 15-year-olds making a mint off the back of families in their neighbourhood desperate for their child to shine.

Spot the spelling mistake in these sentences:

We went to the supamarket to do the shopping
I have a warm blancket on my bed
There are many deparments in the government
You need a ruler to draw a strait line
Your arms and legs are called lims

Get them right, and you’ve just been awarded another mark in a year 5 language convention NAPLAN test.

Or this in a year 9 practice test.

Spot the spelling mistake, and provide the correct spelling.

Eggs provide protene in a diet
We gained incite into another culture through our exchange student
An optomist is someone who is always positive

For those 14-year-olds doing the language conventions test this week, your score will be available by term 3, when you’ve probably forgotten the question.

Testing is important. Finding inequities between states and schools is crucial. Targeting those children who risk falling behind is paramount to providing a good education.

But the NAPLAN test, delivered in its current form, records a fail on every one of those markers.

And it should be up to its proponents, not the nation’s children, to find the answers they’re seeking.


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