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NAPLAN tests take heavy toll

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Jewel Topsfield

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NAPLAN tests take heavy toll

Teachers are holding practice tests prior to NAPLAN and children are experiencing stress-related vomiting, according to the first national study.

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TEACHERS are holding practice tests for months prior to NAPLAN and children are experiencing stress-related vomiting and sleeplessness, according to the first national study into the impact of the high-stakes testing regime.

The University of Melbourne study raises significant concerns about the ''unintended side effects'' of NAPLAN, including teaching to the test, a reduction in time devoted to other subjects and a negative impact on student health and staff morale.

Almost half of teachers said they held practice NAPLAN tests at least once a week for five months before the tests every May.

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About 90 per cent of the 8353 teachers and principals surveyed said some students felt stressed before NAPLAN tests, with symptoms including crying, sleeplessness, vomiting and absenteeism.

NAPLAN tests, which assess the literacy and numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, have been conducted nationwide since 2008.

The study's researchers have called for a national debate into whether there are other ways the data could be collected without the negative impacts revealed in their findings.

''We are narrowing the curriculum in order to test children,'' said lead researcher Nicky Dulfer. ''There are ways we can support numeracy and literacy learning without limiting children's access to other subjects like music, languages and art.''

However, federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett said the results of the survey did not reflect the feedback he consistently received.

''Principals and teachers tell me that NAPLAN has proven a really valuable tool to help track student performance and direct attention and resources where they are needed,'' he said.

Mr Garrett said there was nothing in the tests that students needed to learn above and beyond what was already in the curriculum. ''There is no reason that the teaching of other subjects should suffer or that students should feel stressed.''

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority says ''excessive test preparation is not useful'' and ''NAPLAN tests are not tests students can 'prepare' for.''

But the Australia-wide survey found 39 per cent of teachers held weekly practice tests - and 7 per cent held daily tests - in the five months prior to NAPLAN.

''Unsurprisingly, teachers also reported that many students became very bored with this,'' report authors Ms Dulfer, Suzanne Rice and John Polesel said.

More than 70 per cent of educators surveyed said they taught to the test and 69 per cent said NAPLAN had led to a reduction in the time they spent teaching subjects that were not tested.

There were also concerns about the effect of the tests on students' self-esteem. ''As one teacher put it … some students have a belief that they are viewed as dumb by the rest of the community,'' said the report, The Experience of Education: The impacts of high stakes testing on school students and their families.

However, 46 per cent of teachers and just over two-thirds of principals believed NAPLAN information was useful.

Although the federal government tries to ensure NAPLAN results are not used to create school league tables, most teachers believed a purpose of the tests was to rank schools and police their performance.

Only 42 per cent saw NAPLAN as a diagnostic tool. ''As one teacher posited, 'results come out too late in the year to make a significant impact during that year'.''

Ninety per cent believed lower-than-expected NAPLAN results would mean that a school would have trouble attracting and retaining students.

More than 2280 teachers knew of students who had changed schools as a result of poor results. Other research indicated middle-class parents were more adept at using NAPLAN results to help them choose schools, ''whereas parents with less social and economic capital have less capacity to use this information to their advantage''.

While international research has raised concerns about high-stakes testing in countries such as the US and the UK, the relative newness of NAPLAN has meant there has been little data on its impact available until now. The study was commissioned by the Whitlam Institute within the University of Western Sydney.

''The report suggests the NAPLAN testing regime is plagued by unintended consequences well beyond its stated intent. It does represent a shift to high-stakes testing,'' said institute director Eric Sidoti.

jtopsfield@theage.com.au

154 comments

  • VCE is the score that set students up for Uni.
    To get a good result at VCE you need:-
    1. Ability
    2. Work ethic
    3. Good school
    4. Good teachers
    5. Supportive parents.
    6. Study for the "exam"
    I think NAPLAN should follow these principles, so if your child gets a good result compared to others, it may mean they are "on track" to get a good VCE result.

    Commenter
    waza
    Date and time
    November 26, 2012, 7:34AM
    • My scores during similar standardised testing during the 1990s in Victoria indicated I was at least three years ahead of my peers. Nobody gave a hoot except my parents, whose attempts to convince staff and principles to let me "skip ahead" fell on deaf ears due to their limited understanding of English and the Victorian education system. I became disenchanted with the idea of school because I had covered the curriculum with my other in years prior; boredom meant I failed five of my six Unit 1 & 2 VCE subjects, as I just no longer cared.

      I was told during VCE that I would never, ever step foot inside a university. If NAPLAN results are to mean anything, it should indicate that a child is capable of a deeper understanding beyond the cognitive abilities deemed average for their age group - and this should exclude the current trend of rote learning prior to prepare students.

      One other thing which must be reinforced is that a good VCE score does not set a child up for a successful university career: six years later, I'm undertaking my third qualification (post-graduate). This is the case for many of my peers, and many current students, I'm sure. This is an outdated notion that must be actively discouraged.

      So, to surmise: the relevance of NAPLAN to a student achieving a good VCE result and participation in subsequent study is akin to that of a fish and a game of tennis - there is none, and to suggest there is would be grossly absurd. Please tell me you do not have any kind of notable standing (or any at all...) within the education system or the life of a student.

      Commenter
      Baby
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 9:20AM
    • @ Baby

      While you may perhaps claim to be highly intelligent, it seems that you're only too ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In your account, the testing was not at fault; the capacity of the bureaucratic system to cope properly with those outside the parameters would seem to have been the problem.

      Commenter
      BillR
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 9:35AM
    • Baby

      I am sorry you did not get the support you required, and this effected your work ethic.(Note my points 2, 3 & 4). As you have completed post graduate qualifications your probably meet my point.

      As a supportive parent, I have followed the NAPLAN process of my two children. I noted that the teacher gave them practice questions. I got my children to sit practice exams. I helped go over areas they didnt understand. I looked at the results and discussed ways of improvement with the teacher. This is what I will do all the way through to VCE.

      Commenter
      waza
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 10:07AM
    • As a parent with two primary kids, I think NAPLAN is fantastic. It's about time school was about mastering the basics.

      Also, learning to cope with pressure and time managment skills are a good thing, too.

      And if the teachers must spend more time on 'numeracy & literacy' - then great, so they should! Even at the expense of other subjects like 'humanities' and 'arts'.

      Literacy and numeracy are crucial and it should be a concern if kids are failing in these crucial areas.

      Waza - I agree with you, but I think "Supportive parents" is the most cruciaal factor and ensures all the others.

      That's why so many great modern Australian doctors came from Vietnamese boat people origins - who arrived with no advantages, no money, no language, nada - but had supportive parents with a solid work ethic focused on the basics of education made all the difference.

      NAPLAN is as much an evaluation of the parents and teachers as it is the students - that's why so many parents and teachers don't like it!!!!

      Commenter
      happy parent mark
      Location
      beach
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 10:58AM
    • Add to Waza's list:

      7. Paid tutoring to spoon-feed for entry to selective high school
      8. Paid tutoring to "help" with assignments
      9. Money, money, money for tutors to make sure Junion "succeeds"

      NAPLAN doesn't scratch the surface of what is really going on.

      Commenter
      Further
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 11:11AM
    • You cant blame the test for stress. The stress is a reflection of those who put expectation on the children. i want to know where my childrens abilities really rest. If they show they need help then I am only too happy to provide it. I'm not sure why there is an outcry about an initiative to test my children. After all that is why I send them to school.

      Commenter
      Jarrod
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 1:03PM
    • Yeah VCE gets you to uni, but it is still over rated and puts kids through unnecessary stress. I did horribly in VCE but 4 years later started Law at Monash.

      Tests like NAPLAN or even the VCE exams are a problem where they discriminate against people who are not good at taking tests but are otherwise quite intelligent.

      Commenter
      Tak
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 3:34PM
    • The whole point is: to much pressure on tests, not enough learning how to be a decent human being. The same goes for VCE. We need to be concentrating on teaching individual kids to be the best that they can be. Ethic, not tests.

      Commenter
      Terrarocks
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 8:16PM
  • I don't get it.

    As a child in British Columbia, Canada, in the '50s and '60s, we wrote what were called "Departmentals" - exams set by the Department of Education, similar to NAPLAN.

    The teachers didn't seem to be particularly worried about them, and we kids certainly didn't worry about them. The Department used them to check that the marks given by teachers and schools were in line with the marks on independent examinations. I remember my grade (year) 10 French teacher being particularly pleased that the marks for our class were within 1 or 2 percentage points of the marks she'd given us.

    So what's the deal with NAPLAN? The only difference I can see is that NAPLAN is being made a big public issue, and the Departmentals were used quietly to monitor and improve the quality of teaching and consistency in grading results.

    Commenter
    Pensioner
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    November 26, 2012, 7:46AM

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