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The Merits of NAPLAN

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The 2015 NAPLAN testing took place from 12-14 May. NAPLAN allows each student and group performance to be measured against common national standards, giving teachers information to inform their planning and classroom teaching in literacy and numeracy, and assisting the school to monitor students’ performance. Rehoboth’s performance was once again a strong one where our Year 7 and Year 9 cohort outperformed the WA mean in all areas. This compared favourably to our 2013 and 2014 results, which placed us 28th and 25th school in WA (as published in The Weekend Australian).

However, it must be remembered that this assessment represents a student’s achievement on one assessment on a single day in the year, and that direct comparisons of statistical results are limited in scope given the small sample size at Rehoboth. The results of a few students at either end of the spectrum that are significantly higher or lower than average have a greater impact on year group averages in small sample sizes (like Rehoboth) compared to State or National averages, and can potentially skew the outcome (positively or negatively).

NAPLAN results are useful for teachers in that they are a method of standardised testing at a school level which reflects how students are performing compared to last year’s students, or to students in other schools. Teachers can use standardised testing to look at groups of students (e.g. male/female) or at particular subject areas or parts of the curriculum and use the data to inform teaching strategies and planning for the future. In the Secondary School, Rehoboth has a Literacy team and a Numeracy team that meets every Term to do just that, and involves teachers in identifying the ways to overcome any deficiencies.

In terms of ranking individuals or schools on their performance, the merits of NAPLAN are less clear. Assessment of learning (or for learning) needs to encompass more than multiple choice tests. Observation, problem-solving, and collaborative tasks are examples that cannot be incorporated into NAPLAN in its current format and are equally, if not more, important. The key to effective assessment that supports learning is to use multiple sources. This is more valuable in informing teachers’ planning for their students, especially when we consider different learning styles or multiple intelligences. Data from standardised testing can contribute, but needs to be complemented by, information from other sources; NAPLAN data needs to be interpreted in conjunction with local testing, analysis of work samples, teacher observation and so on, in order to contribute to the teacher’s full picture of a student’s learning.

It is important for parents to recognise that NAPLAN data is only one measure of performance for students, for the school and for the programs involved, especially when it comes to the MySchool website. The trends indicated by the data do have value (for teachers in particular), but they do not necessarily give a balanced picture of the learning and teaching taking place.

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