Dean of Learning

Is standardised testing necessary?

As the NAPLAN testing concludes this week, it is timely to reflect on the practice and value of standardised testing in schools.

One of the main criticisms of standardised tests such as NAPLAN, is that such tests evaluate a student’s performance on one particular day and do not take into account other factors. There are some students who do not perform well on tests. Many of these students show a sound understanding of content and are actively engaged learners, but this doesn’t show on the test. Some students can develop test anxiety which adversely affects their performance. There are many external factors which can affect student performance on any given day. If a student is in a poor frame of mind on the morning of a test, their focus is unlikely to be where it should during the test. Furthermore, such testing tends to focus on whether or not a student is proficient at the time of testing and fails to recognise how much improvement may have been made over the course of a year.

There is an increased perception that since its inception in 2008, NAPLAN has moved from being a diagnostic tool to being a comparative measure and has become “high stakes” testing. This perception has increased this year with the c link of a Band 8 in Year 9 to qualify for the HSC (Stronger HSC Standards Reform). Regardless of the reality that there will be numerous opportunities for students to demonstrate competency in literacy and numeracy before the HSC, anxiety around NAPLAN has increased.

So why do we continue to have standardised tests? The fact is that such tests do provide schools and other educational bodies with a great deal of valuable data. The aim of NAPLAN is to provide a report card on school, state and national progress in the fundamental areas of reading, writing, language conventions and numeracy. In spite of the cons, such information is much needed if we are to improve educational standards within schools and more broadly as a nation. It may not inform us on  how to improve standards but it does pinpoint where the strengths and weaknesses lie.

At Loreto, we view standardised tests such as NAPLAN as just one source of information to enable us to improve our educational outcomes for our students. We do not believe in “teaching to the test”, rather we take the view that such tests do in fact give us a snapshot of the lay of the land. We will always continue to provide our students with a broad and evolving curriculum in order to best prepare them for the challenges of life beyond school in the 21st century.

 

Mme Maryse Martin

Acting Dean of Learning