Are we testing the wrong things?

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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.

0 Comments on “Are we testing the wrong things?

  1. Well said Dan! The tests might give an indication of the results, but they can’t tell us what’s really happening with the kids, and they certainly don’t provide any solutions. We need to reconsider our priorities as you suggest!

  2. Well being and engagement are very important. My oldest child always did well in NAPLAN in primary school. Now she hates her high school and feels the teachers only care about the uniform. Her year 9 NAPLAN saw a significant drop in her scores. I know this doesn’t mean she has poor literacy and numeracy skills but in her own words: “I used to be smart but now I’m dumb”. I don’t know what the answer is as we need to have high expectations for our kids. We also need to remember that this is a unique period in history where ALL kids are actually expected to stay in school and perform in high stakes testing.

    • Thanks for your comment… it’s a shame how quickly kids can pigeon-hole themselves as dumb… as this can impact long after the NAPLAN tests have been and gone.
      DO her teachers only care about uniform? Why does she get that impression?

  3. I don’t think we are testing the wrong things. I think it is more that the results are being used for the wrong purposes and it is these purposes that have created the pre-testing and practice testing regimes.

    The purpose of NAPLAN should be to identify students that would benefit from additional assistance to help them achieve a pre-defined standard AND to identify students that would benefit from additional extension activities so as to achieve their best.

    There should be no need for schools and teachers to change their teaching process in the lead up to NAPLAN if literacy and numeracy are being integrated into the normal teaching day. I do think that posing questions to students in NAPLAN style however is useful in test preparation.

    I don’t believe that NAPLAN should be removed from our education system as it can serve a purpose, just not the one it is currently used for.

    One thing about NAPLAN I don’t agree with is the timing of the test. How can we realistically test Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students in May each year. It should be moved to later in the year or else call it Year 2, 4, 6 and 8 testing.

  4. When teachers and schools feel that their performance is going to be measured (and god forbid) ranked by standardised test scores, let’s not be naive, they will gradually start to do whatever it takes to improve those marks. Whilst there should be no need for schools and teachers to change their teaching process, my fear is that slowly but surely they will ‘self sensor’ out of their programs the engaging/exciting activites and replace them with more Naplan preperation style activities. The pressures will be subtle (or not so!) and pervasive, and especially for younger teachers almost impossible to resist.

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