It’s that time when families will get NAPLAN results and begin to work out what they mean for their children. I always stress that NAPLAN is a great diagnostic tool. It tests students at a point in time in literacy and numeracy. It provides results which when looked at in detail can be like a prescription.
The results show what the student can do and what they need to do.
But they’re a poor way to compare students and schools – yet that’s what they’ve always been used for. This year I advise to approach comparison with extreme caution. Several schools were part of a trial to do NAPLAN tests online while the rest did them with pen and paper. This automatically created a situation where not all students were treated equally with the same conditions. It is hard to say which was a better method given that there were significant reports of technology difficulties.
Using different methods of completing the tests will continue to 2020 when it’s expected that all students in Australia will do the tests online. Of course we have to assume that everyone in Australia has internet access and technology at the same level. NAPLAN is also up for review which could challenge its validity and usefulness.
At Cabramatta High School we embrace data-driven decision-making and use NAPLAN as it was intended – as a diagnostic tool. When the results come to the school we work individually with all years 7 and 9 students to help them understand the results. They’re shown what they did well in and what they should foster. They’re also given feedback on more difficult areas.
Students then create their own learning plans for improvement. A range of options such as free tutoring, master classes, homework-centre access, school-provided speech pathology and increased private study techniques are some of the options. Through owning their own learning improvement students are more likely to understand what they need to do to progress and see the tests not as pass or fail but as a chance to grow.
Using NAPLAN results for comparison is fraught with problems. It’s more productive to use them as a diagnostic tool.