My son started grade three this year. I can no longer kid myself that he is just getting stated on his school journey. He is now firmly in the middle years of primary school. He is learning an instrument for the first time, considering high schools, trying out for sports teams and preparing for NAPLAN. Out of everything, it’s NAPLAN that’s causing me worry. And I’m worrying about being worried, because everyone says the best thing you can do is not stress about it at all.
I’m trying to put my own mind at ease. Both by understanding NAPLAN and how to best support my child.
The official purpose of NAPLAN is to uniformly test national numeracy and literacy and provide teachers with a diagnostic and comparative tool that covers an extended period of learning. The unofficial reason is to have a level of transparency that allows parents to place pressure on schools when they “under-perform”. Or to choose schools based on their NAPLAN results. Or for high schools to base their student selections on the test. All of which I find incredibly unfair. NAPLAN only tests numeracy and literacy at one random moment in time. Schools, their teachers and their students are so much more than that.
Whether I agree with the philosophy behind NAPLAN or not, it’s a reality of primary school life. So as a parent I want my son to be comfortable, prepared and have his test results accurately reflect his abilities.
During one week in May, school students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9 sit the tests. They are based around four core areas:
- writing (persuasive or narrative writing will be tested )
- language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation)
- numeracy (number and algebra, measurement and geometry, statistics and probability)
You can look at sample tests here and previous years’ tests here. I must admit, some of the harder questions (which tend to be at the end of the test) took me by surprise. However, it’s important to understand the range of what is being tested and how the minimum standards work. Comprehensive information regarding those standards can be found at the very useful NAPLAN site.
Our school takes a relaxed approach to NAPLAN. They integrate test preparation into the curriculum rather than focusing on NAPLAN specifically. The children aren’t over-coached on how to sit the test. There is no big push and no one is asked to “stay home that day” (rumours abound that many schools take this approach for under-performing students). The teachers have told the kids that the test is really about the teachers and how they are going. They have said that to take the pressure off, but in a way, they are right. NAPLAN is used to measure teacher performance.
Parents of older kids have counselled me to keep a low profile on NAPLAN. Not bring it up unless my son does. To regard it as any other test and trust the teachers on the right level of preparation. All of this is to stop the anxious hysteria that can accompany NAPLAN and is of no use to anyone. The advice given on the NAPLAN website echoes that idea. If your child is particularly anxious about the test some of these tips may help.
While I’ve not chatted to my son about NAPLAN, I have done some research. As the test is diagnostic it is not something that can or should be studied for. The point is to measure a child’s abilities at a point in time, and to measure the literacy and numeracy they have learned in their schooling up to that moment. It is not possible to “cram” for the test, despite what the many coaching clinics that have sprung up around the country might tell you. In addition, doing practice test after practise test isn’t helpful. The kids need an idea of the structure and how to sit the test but after that, too much practice has proven counter-productive.
They are some basic things the kids sitting the test will need to keep in mind. Things like having a go at all multiple choice questions, being neat and clear with answers, answering all questions, being careful with time, reducing options by discounting obviously incorrect answers and a host of other exam techniques that will eventually become second nature.
Most teachers will cover this kind of learning. It’s hard to delegate responsibility as a parent, but I think NAPLAN preparation needs to stay with teachers. This is the easiest way to reduce NAPLAN stress. I want to understand the test as I want to understand all aspects of my son’s schooling, but my role here isn’t to pass on my research or make my son anxious by insisting on practice testing. Instead, I’ll support my boy by believing in him, trusting his teachers and regarding a test day as just another ordinary day at school. But most of all I will support him like I always do — by letting him know, no matter what, I love him and I am proud of him.