A message to parents: don’t fear NAPLAN - Grattan Institute

Published in the Herald Sun, 10 May 2021

From tomorrow, more than a million school students across Australia will complete the annual NAPLAN assessments.

Many parents are not particularly happy about this. Some worry the tests are stressful or that they are too narrow to measure all of the things we care about in education.

My message to those parents is: don’t lose sight of the big benefits NAPLAN offers your children, and families and teachers across Australia.

This is especially true for Victorian students this year, following last year’s lengthy COVID lockdowns. Unfortunately, many students fell behind while trying to learn from home. Getting a reliable picture of this loss is essential if we want to turn things around.

NAPLAN tests the literacy and numeracy skills of students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9. It doesn’t test everything a child knows, so it can’t tell the full story of a child’s education. But it does provide a snapshot of how children are going in areas key to opening up their future opportunities.

Teachers can target their teaching more effectively when they know where children are starting from. NAPLAN tests can also help identify students who are really struggling.

Of course, schools use many different types of assessments – not just NAPLAN. But NAPLAN is powerful because it shows how students are travelling against national benchmarks at key year levels. Over time, it shows how much progress students make.

NAPLAN also gives parents an independent view on how their children are going, beyond regular school report cards. If a NAPLAN result throws up a surprise, parents can talk to their child’s teachers about possible new approaches to make sure their child gets the most out of school.

NAPLAN isn’t about checking whether children are naughty or nice, good or bad. There’s no prize for coming first and there certainly should not be any punishment for those who struggle.

Perhaps we should think about NAPLAN just like we think about a regular trip to the dentist. Sure, it might not be the event on the calendar that we most look forward to, but the nervous anticipation is generally worse than the check-up itself. And most of us understand that it’s better for the dentist to pick up any problems early so they can put them right before the real pain kicks in down the track.

As children start their learning check-up this week, let’s provide them with all the reassurance and support they need. And perhaps a lollypop when it’s all over – just don’t tell the dentist.