My Views on NAPLAN

I was pleased to read an article in the SMH the other day in which Dr Pasi Sahlberg (a world-renowned Finnish education expert who is moving to Australia with his young children to take up a position at the newly founded Gonski Institute at UNSW) described NAPLAN testing as 'harmful' to children. He stated that because the tests focus on reading, writing, grammar and numeracy skills, it means that students who excel in certain subjects are considered clever, while students who did well in other areas are overlooked.

These comments mirror those I made in an article I wrote a couple of years ago calling for not only a change in focus for the tests but a change in the way in which the results are used. Teachers should absolutely use the NAPLAN tests as benchmarks to inform their teaching strategies and ensure that they are developing their students' abilities in a differentiated fashion. But publishing the tests as though they are the be all and end all of what parents should know about a school before enrolling their child is a flawed plan. Read more about that here.

In terms of a change in focus for the tests, it is my dream (yes - dream - that probably tells you all you need to know about me) that they include a measure of social, emotional and resilience skills. When schools can combine academic results (including subjects other than literacy and numeracy) along with a reliable measure of their students' wellbeing and resilience, they will start to paint a picture of how they can educate the whole child, the child who will leave school needing critical and creative thinking skills for jobs that don't exist yet. The research is conclusive: students with a high level of social and emotional skills perform better academically, and learn more. Of course they do! When did you last learn something when you were anxious?

Given the high stakes for the NAPLAN tests in Australia, it seems inevitable that schools teach to the tests. Therefore, if they tested a wider range of skills, then educators would be compelled to prioritise them. In the article, Dr Sahlberg commends those principals who flout the policies that they don't believe are good for the kids, and who "do things that are good for the children." I believe that the implementation of a program which prioritises academic and social and emotional learning equally is a good place to start - an initiative that is good not only for the children but the staff, parents and wider community as well.

Rose Pennington