NAPLAN – just like a trip to the dentist - Grattan Institute

More than 250,000 school students across Victoria will begin the annual NAPLAN learning check-up this week.

Just like in previous years, there will be some nervous parents and students, and possibly teachers. After all, it’s the rare child – or adult – who looks forward to taking a test. Some parents worry the tests are too stressful. Others worry they are too narrow, encouraging schools to focus too much on just a few aspects of a child’s education.

Following the unprecedented COVID-19 disruptions of the past two years, there might also be some who think NAPLAN assessment time is better spent in the playground or the classroom – strengthening social bonds or catching up on missed learning, rather than sitting another test. 

For those worrying about NAPLAN testing, my message is: don’t lose sight of the big benefits NAPLAN offers your children, and families and teachers across Victoria – particularly after COVID turned schooling on its head.

One way to think about NAPLAN is like a regular trip to the dentist. Sure, it’s not the outing on the calendar that most of us look forward to, but the anticipation is generally worse than the check-up itself. And picking up any problems early can save a lot of toothache down the track.

NAPLAN provides a snapshot of the literacy and numeracy skills of students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9. It doesn’t test everything a child knows, and it can’t tell the full story of a child’s education. But it does provide a picture of how a child is going in some of the most important aspects of their learning. 

If learning problems are picked up early, parents can work with teachers to support their children to catch up, heading off a snowball effect of lower confidence and the risk that their child feels discouraged and disengages from school. Teachers can better target their teaching when they know where children are starting from. And small-group tutoring can have a big impact on learning. It is now offered in Victorian government schools to help students catch up after the COVID closures. 

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. It also gives parents an independent view on how their children are going, beyond regular school report cards.

As children start their learning check-up this week, let’s provide them with all the reassurance and encouragement they need. And if you haven’t made it to the dentist yet, perhaps it’s time to book in that appointment too.

Jordana Hunter

Education Program Director
Jordana Hunter is the Education Program Director at Grattan Institute. She has an extensive background in public policy design and implementation, with expertise in school education reform as well as economic policy.

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