My somewhat cynical, tongue-in-cheek, superficial (call it what you want) take on the education debate in Australia.
I wrote this for my weekly Generation Next column.
According to Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, “Stuffed toys that help children deal with ‘difficult emotions’ are being spruiked as a means to ‘assist with the stress of NAPLAN.’”
As an aside, it does seem ironic that the PR firm pushing these toys is called Evil Twin.
Now, I understand that Year 12 students get stressed over HSC or VCE examinations. After all these are what they have been playing for since the Game of School began.
I understand Year 6 students getting stressed over a scholarship examination. After all, I’m sure they know just how lucky they are to even get the chance to sit for that test.
And – at a push – I can even understand Year 4 or 5 students getting stressed about being examined in order to gain access to the illustrious Opportunity Class. (Seriously… who comes up with these ideas?)
But a Year 3, 5, 7 or 9 student getting stressed over NAPLAN?
Let’s be clear. NAPLAN is not something students should be stressed about.
However, the way in which NAPLAN has been rolled out, and the use of the data it generates, means that NAPLAN is certainly something teachers and principals get stressed about.
What should be seen as a diagnostic test to gauge those kids who need extra help has been turned into a blunt instrument to judge teacher and whole-school performance.
Whether you agree NAPLAN should be used to measure school performance – and for the record I do believe it should play some part in a far more comprehensive analysis – the fact remains that a student’s results in NAPLAN, will have little bearing on their education. Certainly not in the same way their performances in their Opportunity Class, scholarship or Year 12 exams would have.
So why the stress?
One can only assume that it is the schools imparting this stress onto students and parents.
Anecdotally there have been stories in the past, of principals telling less-able students to stay at home on NAPLAN day, fearful of how the school’s results would be impacted by his or her attendance. And then of course there are the schools only admitting new students whose NAPLAN scores are deemed “good enough.”
Parents are simply following the lead from the schools.
Tutoring companies and NAPLAN study book publishers can’t believe their luck. One publishing company has sold 180,000 books already this year, whilst you’ll find School Zone NAPLAN-Style Workbook: Year 3 Numeracy at Number 9 on the Bestseller list courtesy of well-meaning parents.
Bookstores who may have been worried about their future a couple of years ago are now banking on NAPLAN hysteria seeing them through!
Meanwhile ACARA and government officials trot out the same old tired lines about NAPLAN being something you can’t prepare for.
Well people aren’t buying those words. They’re buying the words in NAPLAN books, and now it seemsGood Luck toys.
So I ask again, why is it – do you think – that the kids are stressed?
This is my latest article in the Generation Next Newsletter…
As the Fairfax media reports that more parents than ever were withdrawing their kids from the annual NAPLAN tests I wonder if these tests are even assessing the right things in school.
Now I realize the importance of literacy and numeracy – of course I do.
But, these tests only measure outcomes.
If we only assess the outcomes, we often misunderstand or completely ignore the causation.
What if we saw these “outcomes” as a by-product of genuine engagement and wellbeing in our schools?
What if – instead of striving to enhance scores, we sought to enhance the wellbeing of our kids (and teachers!).
What if – instead of trying to compete with our Asian neighbours in the numeracy league tables, we attempted to genuinely engage our students in a way that develops critical and creative thinkers with a real lifelong love of learning.
To be frank, engagement and wellbeing are pre-cursors to real achievement, but all too often we pursue achievement at the expense of our kids’ (and teachers’) sense of engagement and wellbeing.
I recently discovered this Gallup poll that aims to chart the levels of hope, engagement and wellbeing across students in Grades 5-12 across the United States.
In Australia, I know ACER have this survey on engagement as well as their wellbeing survey and I think it would be in your school’s best interests to know how your students are tracking in this regard.