Updated: Apr 28, 2021
In this post, we provide information on NAPLAN that is easy to understand, as well as some practical tips that will allow parents to better prepare children for the annual assessments. Assessment is an integral part of the learning process. Without assessment, we have no way of measuring how children are progressing with their learning and what we need to do to improve their educational outcomes. At Mindshift Education Coaching we value assessment as a key to educational growth and success. We analyse and respond to the data gained from contemporary assessment tools to inform all individual learning programs that are unique to each child's needs.
I will begin by first saying that NAPLAN is one of, not the only assessment tool that we should use to improve the educational outcomes of children and young people. It is a point in time test to be analysed in correlation with a range of learning data to inform the learning program of each individual student. However, changing what is now an overwhelmingly negative perception of NAPLAN will create a culture of learning that embraces all assessment as a means of progressing the academic outcomes of children and young people, the actual purpose of assessment in the first place.
NAPLAN is one of, if not the most controversial topics in education today. This 6 letter acronym has been front and centre in the minds of students, parents, teachers, administrators, schools, and systems since its inception in 2008. This has been due in large part to the focus of media attention, most of which paints a negative picture.
A quick google search of the term NAPLAN results in copious amounts of news articles brandishing titles such as ‘Unnecessary pressure’: Teachers demand NAPLAN be axed, Time to bury NAPLAN for good, and NAPLAN really is a dud. With much of the coverage presenting NAPLAN in a negative light, there is little wonder that the annual assessments are met with apprehension and even disdain by many in both the education and wider community.
The most important stakeholders in the world of education, children, have been heavily influenced by this negativity. It is true that for many, NAPLAN leads to anxiety, stress, and an exorbitant amount of unnecessary pressure, but this is because we have made it so. For far too long these 5 tests have been spoken and written about in a way that has left children no choice but to face NAPLAN with a negative mindset.
This mindset is something we can and must change, and it is the responsibility of the trusted adults in the lives of children to initiate this process. The first thing we must do is to better understand what NAPLAN actually is. For many, the only information they receive is through those channels of the media that promulgate negativity. As with anything related to the education of children, the more informed parents are the better equipped they are to make decisions that positively affect the educational outcomes of their children.
Now, what is NAPLAN...
First, it is important to know what NAPLAN stands for, which is, National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy.
Put simply, NAPLAN is the national literacy and numeracy assessment, or set of assessments that students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 sit annually. The program was implemented in 2008 by then Education Minister Julia Gillard and has run every year since, with the exception of 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Students sit standardised tests in reading, writing, numeracy, spelling and grammar, and each domain is scored on a single scale. This single scale allows for student achievement to be compared across different year levels, due to the common learning progression of the NAPLAN tests. What this means is that not only can we measure student achievement against national standards in literacy and numeracy, but it also allows us to see how each child is progressing against these national standards over time.
This is an overwhelming positive of NAPLAN as a tool for learning growth. Yes, the tests do provide an insight into the achievement levels of students against national standards but more importantly they demonstrate the learning growth of children in each domain. NAPLAN is a tool for all stakeholders in education, be that the children themselves, parents, teachers, administrators, schools, and systems, that gauges the level of improvement for an individual student and helps inform decisions to maximise learning growth moving forward.
Now, with that out of the way let's take a look at 3 practical ways you can create a positive mindset towards NAPLAN and subsequently develop this mindset as a lifelong attribute of learners who value assessment. In so doing you are not only helping them to navigate NAPLAN assessments, a reality in today's schooling environment, but you are setting them up for success in all assessments moving forward.
1. Embrace Assessment
Assessments are an unavoidable reality of education as it exists today so why not embrace them for the value they provide? Quizzes, tests, and assignments are assessments that students of all ages will face throughout their school lives. Although the method of assessment may have changed, the fact that children are required to complete them to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and capability in a given learning area has not.
For many of us, it is part of our human make-up to dislike assessment for reasons often unknown to us, and for children, this is particularly true. Children will often show signs of stress before sitting a test or present as anxious when working on an assignment. This is because we have created a culture that is adverse to assessment. As a society we do not see assessment for what it is; a way to demonstrate understanding and a means to formulate a plan that will lead to success and growth.
Adults must be the ones to show children that assessment is something to embrace, to look forward to because it is a chance to 'show off'. Have a conversation with your children to discuss how they feel about assessment and why they feel that way. It is important to acknowledge their feelings, but it is even more important to speak with them about the awesome opportunity they have to show what they have learnt.
Now, as we know children learn at different rates and for some children, they have not achieved success in past assessments and will experience difficulty in assessments moving forward. For these children, we must still position assessment as an opportunity to show what they do know and stress the point that it will provide insight into what we can do to help them grow. To downplay assessment because we are worried about failure is to do children a disservice.
2. Embrace and prepare - don't add pressure
One of the more talked about issues when it comes to NAPLAN is that it puts unnecessary pressure on children to perform. As I have stated above, NAPLAN, just like any other assessment, has the potential to cause a range of negative emotions to arise in children. But again, this is only the case if we make it so.
When adults embrace assessment for what it adds to the educational environment and speak with children about the positive opportunities it provides, pressure turns into excitement. There is no need for NAPLAN to be seen as a negative in any way, shape, or form unless we as adults make it so.
Preparing children for assessment begins with the conversation that embraces it. Next adults can discuss what children might expect when it comes to a particular assessment. Have a relaxed, informal discussion about what it might look like, how the assessment will take place, what the task or questions will involve and what to do if they get stuck. There are several things that you may discuss with your child and like most things in education they are different from one child to the next. You know your child best!
The second part of preparing children for assessment is about the actual content or what they will be asked to do. NAPLAN is a measure of student achievement against the national standards that they have worked toward achieving at school daily. There is nothing out of the ordinary about the content of NAPLAN questions, and the questions for each year level are taken from the national standards for literacy and numeracy.
What this means is that children are prepared just by engaging in school. The quality of instruction students receive throughout their schooling and their engagement in their learning up to the point of assessment will determine their level of success in all assessments. Your child needs to hear that they are prepared and ready to sit any assessment by focussing and engaging in their learning day to day. This is a good time to point out that if your child has fallen behind or has trouble engaging in their learning you must find a way to rectify this immediately.
Each child possesses different academic strengths and weaknesses. It is the weaknesses, and how we as adults respond to them that will either add or alleviate pressure. If your child experiences difficulty in a general curriculum area such as maths or has trouble with a particular concept in a curriculum area such as spelling, it is vital that you respond to this learning need as soon as it arises. This is where the value of private instruction such as educational coaching or tutoring comes in. Many children require more time to work on their individual learning needs than the school can provide. If you do not respond to this need then the pressure is heightened at assessment time.
When children know they are prepared and have done the work to improve their weaknesses they will feel less pressure!
In education, we often refer to what is known as 'the feedback loop'. The feedback loop is a process wherein teachers and students engage in constant feedback about learning to create an open dialogue to discuss areas of success, areas for improvement, and set a plan to progress student achievement.
Parents would be well served to apply a similar process with children, let's call it 'the assessment loop'. Tip 2 above talks about the importance of preparing students for assessments such as NAPLAN and how their preparedness alleviates pressure.
Just as you talk with your child before an assessment, you should do the same after it is complete. Often the anticipation of an assessment far outweighs the assessment itself. It is important that you discuss this with your child and pay particular attention to questions about how they felt before, during, and after. Be sure to emphasise that the angst they felt beforehand was just a feeling and that they have come through the other side unscathed!
If your child experienced difficulty with a particular assessment, or their results indicate that they haven't achieved success, then speak with them about the reasons why and formulate a plan moving forward. This might mean that they learn some breathing exercises to help them calm and focus on the task at hand, or that they engage in some tutoring and extra work to better prepare them for success in the future.
Debriefing with children after an assessment provides them with the opportunity to stop and reflect on the assessment itself and their personal feelings about it. The time you spend discussing how they felt prior, how they feel after, how they think they performed and why they think that way is vital in creating a positive mindset toward assessment.
Success or failure in any educational activity, be that day to day learning or in national standardised tests such as NAPLAN, is in large part a result of mindset. There is an inherent negative mindset around assessment and in particular NAPLAN, that has resulted from years of negative press and the subsequent attitudes that we impart on our children. For this to change we must develop in our children, through our words and actions, a mindset that positions assessment as an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, understanding and capability, as well as embracing it as the number one tool that provides the learning date that leads to exponential growth and academic success.
If we can do this I am certain that our children will achieve greater academic success and growth than we have ever seen.
Mindshift Education Coaching