With NAPLAN just around the corner, I think it is appropriate for an open discussion around how data is used in the public domain. In particular, I would like to share my views on the use and misuse of NAPLAN data. I should preface this piece by saying I am not deflecting attention from our own school results. Our results at Girls Grammar are consistently high, and we have individual students and cohorts with exceptional results. Indeed, we have had individuals with perfect scores and cohorts who have achieved to the highest levels. For example, in 2017 our Year 5 cohort achieved the highest score for Writing in Queensland. But I do not believe the point of the data is to rank schools.
How schools perform on NAPLAN can be a useful measure for families to consider when enrolling their children. But I believe NAPLAN data needs to be considered within the context of each school. League tables published in mainstream media take no measure of a school’s efficacy on improving student achievement. For instance, an academically selective school may achieve outstanding NAPLAN results and accomplish a growth of the expected two years. However, another less resourced school may have comparatively much lower achievement data, but have added three years of academic growth to their students in the same time period. It is not for me to make judgement on which school has performed better, but without all of the information, it is also not possible for families to make a balanced judgement on school suitability for their children.
While tests such as NAPLAN provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of school curriculum programs, using them as a ranking tool is counterproductive and even harmful. The issue with league tables is that they take a superficial and simplistic view of student achievement and school worth. Instead, we need to be looking deeper. Are graduating secondary school students entering their first-choice job or university degree? Is the physical and mental health of students a priority? Simplistic analysis pressures schools to prioritise test results over other aspects of education, such as creativity and critical thinking. This can result in a narrow and one-dimensional approach to teaching and learning. Educators concentrating their efforts in the pursuit of excellence in NAPLAN do so to the detriment of the holistic development of the child.
On the student level, standardised tests are point-in-time assessments. This means that a student's performance may be influenced by factors that are not necessarily indicative of their overall academic abilities. For individual students and their parents, this can create undue stress and anxiety, as they can feel that their academic future is riding on a single test. This is simply not true. Likewise, using test results to rank schools can create a distorted culture of competition that may be detrimental to students' well-being. I support a culture of competition as long as it is healthy and purposeful. I don’t believe schools should be competing against each other on what should be diagnostic testing.
Instead of using NAPLAN test results to rank schools, they should be used as intended. That is, as a diagnostic tool to search for gaps in student knowledge. This approach benefits both individual students and entire cohorts, as it allows our teachers to tailor their approach to teaching to the specific needs of our students. At Girls Grammar, we use NAPLAN and other standardised test data to identify areas of strength and growth for both individual students and cohorts. We then work to build upon these areas to maximise the benefits to our girls.
By adopting a holistic approach to education, we can ensure that our students receive a well-rounded and high-quality education that prepares them for success in all aspects of their lives.
Dr John Fry
Deputy Principal - Studies