Hunter reachers question timing of debate over future of NAPLAN testing

DISCUSSING the future of NAPLAN in the days before students sit the tests has been distracting and disappointing, according to Newcastle Grammar principal Erica Thomas.

“The timing was really poor,” Ms Thomas said. 

“Whether or not we should have NAPLAN is something I’m happy to question.

“But if we were having this debate in September or October – not in May – a lot of emotion would be out of it and it would be an educated debate about what we want.

“Teachers are working really hard and we don’t want kids saying ‘Why do we have to do that?’ I’ve already had children ask if it can be scrapped by this week. 

“So what is it saying to those teachers? We don’t value what you’re doing at the moment?”

Ms Thomas said she’d emphasised to her staff it was “business as usual” in terms of preparing students and helping them stay calm and remember results weren’t a precursor to success.

Her comments follow Minister for Education Rob Stokes’ recent calls for the federal government to replace NAPLAN in “haste” with a less high-stakes test that assesses each student's progress as recommended by the latest Gonski report.

It said NAPLAN had limited benefit because it only assessed a child's achievement at a point in time and had a six-month delay for results and recommended smaller, regular, more low-key tests that assess progress.

Ms Thomas said while the Gonski report was “about the system, discussion about NAPLAN is about children”.

“That’s why I think it’s so ill timed – yes it’s about the test, but the impact is on the kids.”

Ms Thomas agreed NAPLAN had weaknesses, but said it also had strengths: it provides detailed feedback that can be compared to previous years, plus portable results for students moving interstate.

“We’ve got a system in place that might not be ideal, but let’s look at how we can enhance it, look at how advances in technology can make it a more useful tool.”

Mr Stokes said NAPLAN, through its publication on My School comparison website, had become a rating tool rather than a measurement of student progress.

“No principal in Australia would be unhappy if My School went,” Ms Thomas said.

“It’s counterproductive. The value of NAPLAN is looking at individual groups… not how one school is going in comparison to another.”

Head of the University of Newcastle's School of Education Professor John Fischetti said NAPLAN wasn’t designed to compare schools and to do so was “misleading”.

He said NAPLAN didn’t test future-focused skills and more frequent assessment wasn’t necessarily the key to improving teaching and learning.

Across the Hunter and Central Coast, 32,338 years three, five seven and nine pupils will sit the tests.