It has now been 8 years since the introduction of NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy And Numeracy) in Australia, with related expenses now costing the Government around $100m a year. It is fair to say, there have been varied views and levels of reaction to its purpose and value. As we look into the future, there is also intent to enhance and extend the systemic testing of students’ ‘learning’, in and beyond NAPLAN.
So what have we gained and learned due to NAPLAN? From my perspective, the test itself is a tool that can support the improvement of individuals and cohorts numeracy and literacy skills. Perhaps an unintended consequence of NAPLAN is the broader discussion on what is at the heart of great and sustainable learning, and what is important to teach? I believe there has also been an enhanced collaboration of educators and a sharpened focus on using authentic and valid data to measure learning and improvement.
On the flip side, the development of and focus on various forms and reporting of ‘league tables’ lacks authenticity, value or clarity of purpose, especially when they are often generalised to system or ‘philosophy’ comparisons. Factors such as differing approaches schools have to preparation and access for students and the complex nature of school demographics add to the futility of such comparisons. NAPLAN is also an extremely narrow measure of learning. The real opportunity for schools is how to maintain focus and reliably quantify the learning and development in areas that are critical for living and thriving in the 21st Century. Empathy, creativity, grit, collaboration, kindness, critical thinking and problem identification (not just solving) are just a few of the areas that need equal or perhaps greater attention, and ones that will transform and empower well beyond what NAPLAN could ever hope and dream to achieve.