Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

A Mother’s Plea to the Prime Minister on NAPLAN

Tuesday May 15, 2012

Dear Prime Minister,
I have a six year old son. He loves dinosaurs, and is currently obsessed with a Praying Mantis he found in the back yard. Like most kids, he is funny, exhaustingly active and has a mind like a sponge, soaking up learning in a fun and imaginative journey.

When he is old enough (and if it is still around), he will not be taking part in the Naplan testing and I will do anything I can to inform other parents about the limitations of this testing.

I wanted to share my reasons with you in the hope that you will change your stance:
• Firstly, because the results are based on a single test on a single day, the margin of error is large. When the margin of error is applied to the results, the best they can indicate is that the student is in a range which covers several year levels (for example the end of grade four to the start of grade six). Why do I need this when today I can go into my son’s classroom, talk to his teacher and get an up to date, individual assessment of his progress?

• As the error is so great, the test can’t identify if my child has actually improved or regressed. His teacher can! Only a teacher can continuously gather and assess student data based on individual progress. Only a teacher can provide this in the moment, not four months later. Only a teacher can report on the progress of the whole child.

• The testing doesn’t take into account the starting position of my child and how far he has progressed based on his learning path. It doesn’t accept the inherent individuality of our kids.

• The test measures only low level thinking processes not creative, problem solving or strategic thinking skills and as such, trivialises learning.

• Talking to parents and teachers, I already hear stories about children who are encouraged not to attend Naplan testing because they might lower a school’s testing results; about arts, music and drama classes being cut in favour of spending more time and resources on Naplan testing practise; about changes to the curriculum to focus less on learning and education and more on training in how to get a good Naplan score. Is this really preparing our kids for the future?

The jobs that they will be doing tomorrow probably don’t exist today – so surely our education should be aimed at the whole child – at nurturing our children to explore, think and problem solve. ‘Transitioning to the New Economy’ relies on us having a future workforce who are innovative and open to pursuing new ideas and solutions.

• Finally, I understand from figures divulged by the government to a senate inquiry that the costs of Naplan total around $60M per annum. Prime Minister, you have stated that you need the testing to tell you which schools are struggling and where to place education resources. Can I suggest you just go and talk to communities, educators, teachers, parents – they have all this information already at their finger tips. It’s probably a simplistic model (and not backed by a room full of statisticians madly producing numbers) – but even if you started with marginalised communities or areas with large refugee or indigenous populations or low socio-economic resources.

Imagine if we channelled all of the costs for doing the Naplan testing into these communities. Imagine if we created centres of learning excellence in Dandenong, Bankstown, Corio, Palm Island and Halls Creek. An Australia where all kids, regardless of their background, have the right to individualised learning supported by appropriate resources for their needs – now wouldn’t that be a vision!

So please Prime Minister – rethink your stance. Talk to parents, educators and communities and, for the sake of our kids and their futures, change this policy. Naplan is No Plan for our kids.

Yours sincerely,
Gale Ogston.

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