Can we Really Trust NAPLAN when Choosing a School ?

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Here in Australia the Federal Government have updated the MySchool website with the 2012 NAPLAN results. Before I explain and discuss this let me first of all explain exactly what I am talking about.

NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. It is an annual test taken by every grade 3, 5, 7 and 9 student in Australia and they are tested in 4 areas: reading, writing, numeracy and language convention (spelling, grammar and punctuation). You can find out more on the NAPLAN website.

So the tests results for each school are now publicly available on the MySchool website. In fact 5 years of results are now available to look at – which is great but has its downside.

For example you can see the growth of students since they were tested over the 2 year period (they track the individual students then aggregate their scores). You can do this for each aspect of the NAPLAN test. It will show you in graph form or scores. The downside is that there is so much information you can spend a long time considering each aspect (and we are only talking about the NAPLAN parts).

But I think there is a bigger risk. That is depending on data to objectively inform parents on how to form a highly subjective opinion.

The data attempts to compare “apples” with “apples” in that the tests are the same and the student’s year levels are the same but there are considerable variables that can dramatically affect the score.

For example – did the teacher specifically coach their students on the NAPLAN test procedure and give them an advantage? How involved are the parents of the school demographic area in educating their child at home? Was there any influence on absenteeism on the test day (Mummy I don’t want to go to school today syndrome).

But my bigger concern is that we run the risk of thinking school, education, parenting, child development, learning and the like can be reduced to a graph, to a result of a test or series of tests. The data is but one small step away from a formula to calculate the best school in your area – a ranking system to inform parents to enable them to make the best choice for them. Can you hear the stampede of the families as they move their child to a ‘better’ school?

Your son or daughter is WAY MORE than a NAPLAN result or an ATAR score (the method of calculating Year 12 VCE scores for university placements). They are not intellectual machines programmable to pass tests. They are human beings, they have character, personality, quirks, adorable features.

Schools too should be about more than academic learning – they should be (and are) into character development, crafting leadership skills, providing sporting opportunities and places where young people can take up artistic pursuits. Young minds challenged with the ethical dilemmas of our society and allowed to form their opinions.

Of course we want out children to learn but more than that we want them to grow in all 5 areas of life: intellectually, emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually. As parents we play THE major role and we should choose a school based on way more than a website that compares aggregated data.

It may sound I am anti-MySchool website – so I would like to correct that impression. Information is great I just dont want us to think it provides everything we need to know.

I would love you to leave a comment below – either agreeing or arguing !

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