With the release of NAPLAN data this week, the debate about the testing programme and its worth/merit will no doubt re-surface.  Having worked with numerous schools over the years in looking at data (including NAPLAN results), I offer the following reflection.

NAPLAN should not be over emphasised.  NAPLAN is a test administered over three days (out of approximately 200 school days per year) in the life of a student.   Without other data about student achievement then conclusions drawn can be at best, tenuous.  NAPLAN does provide data to teachers about students which is always a good thing but it should be placed alongside other results to provide a complete understanding of the student and their strengths and areas of need.  This data may be other test results, attendance data, well-being survey results, behaviour incidents and so on.  Reducing the emphasis on NAPLAN will also mean less anxiety around the tests experienced by students, parents and teachers.

NAPLAN should be about improving student achievement and not measuring school progress.  The myschool website, mandatory reporting of school results in annual reports and publication of comparison tables by the media all mean that the focus of NAPLAN has moved away from students, to being a comparison between schools.  It is crucial to use the data provided by NAPLAN to “put faces on the data” and not worry about the total number of students who achieved above or below minimum standards but rather look at the results of individual students. This will lead to programs being refined and developed that meet specific student needs and ultimately greater student success.

NAPLAN highlights the importance of systematically collecting and analysing data.  One of the main benefits I have noticed in schools around NAPLAN data is that it has highlighted and shown educators a way of working with data.  As teachers have delved into the NAPLAN results, they have engaged with data to answer questions around their students.  The next step is to apply this approach of data collection and analysis to other assessment items in all curriculum areas and across the school as a whole. Teachers and school administrators need to work towards

embracing opportunities that are afforded by large amounts of data that are systematically collected, linked over time, presented in accessible formats, and relevant to their everyday work

(Helen Wildy, Using Data to drive school improvement)

And some further reading on the topic:

NAPLAN is fine but the way we use it is broken

NAPLAN: More about schools than students

NAPLAN is not a dirty word

Catholic Schools Test Limits

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