What NAPLAN results really reveal about your child
TEACHERS are urging parents not to read too much into the first tranche of NAPLAN results out tomorrow, saying they are just a snapshot of performance in one test on one day - not the final word on students' abilities.
More than 1.2 million children sat the controversial exams this year, some 50 per cent of those online, with tens of thousands of pupils having to re-sit the tests due to technical difficulties.
Tomorrow, families will get their first sense of how pupils' performed when testing authority ACARA releases a state-by-state overview of results.
But teachers want parents to know the figures, while useful, should be taken in context as part of a bigger picture.
Parents should avoid comparisons, stay off social media and look to them for a more rounded assessment of their child, they say.
Paul Browning, headmaster of St Paul's School in Bald Hills, Queensland, said there was a lot of pressure put on parents and students about NAPLAN - but also a lot of pressure on NAPLAN itself.
"NAPLAN can be a very useful tool … but it can be used in the wrong way," Dr Browning said.
"Policymakers and commentators point to NAPLAN as the be all and end all of education, which puts great pressure on schools, teachers, students, parents and the test itself.
"I frequently hear of instances where schools ask some students to 'miss' the test in an attempt to manipulate their overall results.
"There are also many things NAPLAN doesn't measure - things like creativity, resilience and empathy.
"In fact, I would argue these dispositions are critical for students if they are to be successful in this rapidly changing world."
Philip Ledlin, principal at Our Lady of Dolours Primary School in Chatswood, Sydney, said NAPLAN had its benefits but warned against an Australian "obsession" with standardised testing and the pressures that put on pupils and teachers.
"One aspect of the reporting on the My Schools site that is relatively positive, is if it's measuring the growth of a cohort from Year 3 to Year 5, or Year 5 to Year 7," he said, but individual results did not paint a picture of the whole child.
"We send parents a very clear letter really stressing the importance of not comparing results. We are trying to ask parents not to get on social media, on the phone or discussing it at soccer - but instead, really look at the integrity of the individual and avoid this flurry of comparison."
Steve Capp, principal of Victoria's Bentleigh West Primary School, said NAPLAN data was most useful for schools and schools systems to explain cohort performance - and not as useful as an individual student judgment.
"Using NAPLAN data alone to judge student academic outcomes is like going to watch one game of football and trying to establish who the best players are," he said.
"Sure, it is likely that players with the best skills played well that day, but you couldn't be confident unless you watched the whole season and probably subsequent seasons to make a more informed judgment about an individual.
"The team wins more often than not because many of the players have a high average level."
South Australia's West Lakes Shore School acting principal Helen Grant said NAPLAN, together with other forms of assessment and teacher records, form a triangulated view of a student's academic performance.
"As a school, it gives us vital information - and it's important parents know that it helps us help their child," she said.
"It is the only nationally normed testing that we have got, so it's not a bad thing as long as the kids do it with a really positive attitude.
"Our kids love it so that is a credit to the teachers because they obviously approach it with such enthusiasm so it is not a problem.
"We even have Year 2s standing outside saying 'when is it our turn'."
Principal of St Thomas Primary School in Sydney's north, Jenny McKeown, agreed NAPLAN was beneficial for parents, teachers and pupils - if it was considered along with other factors.
"Every test device has its benefits and NAPLAN is one of those," she said.
"It gives you a very broad brush across an entire country - we don't have anything else like that," she said.
"But it is only a test on a day.
"It can add to the anxiety levels of children, but I think it should be seen as just another point in time - that's all it is.
"Above all, it's nice to say congratulations to the children - it doesn't matter what the results are - it's congratulations for them."
HAVING three children in different years sitting NAPLAN tests at the same time makes for a tense household - just ask Sydney mother of five, Louise Talbot.
This year, she had eight-year-old Ethan sit his first NAPLAN test in Year 3, Harrison, 12, sit his Year 7 exam, and 14-year-old Jessica sit her fourth test in Year 9 - and she has mixed feelings ahead of the first set of results coming out tomorrow.
"I think we give the results too much weight, making decisions about our child's abilities based on this one assessment," she said.
"I appreciate that on some scale NAPLAN results could be useful when comparing ourselves on a global scale as this could lead to resources being directed into particular areas of weakness - but at an individual level, we would be better with more regular assessments at both individual and group level, and an ongoing dialogue with parents."
Originally from the UK where there was no equivalent testing regimen, Ms Talbot worries NAPLAN teaches children how to pass tests, "rather than enjoy and foster a love of learning".
Her children have had very different experiences of the system depending on their personalities.
"When my eldest sat her first NAPLAN in Year 3, she had been in Australia less than a year - she was a bit overwhelmed and I remember her wanting to know what mark she had got and how she compared.
"She was aware of the importance of NAPLAN and wanted to do well.
"She doesn't do as well in tests, we have found over the years, but gets good grades when assessed throughout the year as she puts in a lot of effort."
Her second child, Harrison, is more laid back, and wasn't bothered by testing, telling his Mum he didn't see what all the fuss was about.
"My youngest son Ethan sat NAPLAN this year for the first time and he was extremely anxious about taking the test," Ms Talbot, of Northbridge, said.
"He is the youngest in his year, born in April, and felt for sure he would do badly because of this.
"Several weeks prior he started saying he wouldn't take the test and didn't want to go to school."
She helped two of the children prepare for the tests because they were anxious, printing off past papers for them to practice.
"My younger son I bought a couple of NAPLAN books so he could see the type of questions - he felt more confident from doing the papers, whereas my daughter found it more overwhelming seeing the example papers," she said.
In the end, all three children thought they had done okay in this year's assessments, with the youngest "pleasantly surprised that he felt he could answer the questions".
Ms Talbot said their personalities impacted hugely on their whole experience.
"My Year 9 and Year 3 children are much more conscious about where they sit against their peers," she said.
"My Year 7 takes a more relaxed attitude into his learning - he wants to do well but is not bothered about how others are doing.
"He finds NAPLAN meaningless and would rather spend the time doing something more interesting, such as science."