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Speech: Inquiry recommends changes to NAPLAN to put kids at the centre

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 27 Mar 2014

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (12:38):  Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am very pleased to take note of the report of the Senate Education and Employment References Committee's inquiry into the effectiveness of the NAPLAN program. I moved to establish this inquiry because of the growing parental concern I was hearing about the impact of NAPLAN testing and the My School website on students. After six years of the NAPLAN scheme, I thought it was time to re-evaluate what was happening in schools and check that the tests were still putting student needs first.


What we uncovered was that it was not only having adverse consequences for some students-including things like anxiety and stress-but actually affecting teaching and learning practices as a whole. We heard evidence that teachers were spending more and more time teaching to the test, and that the publication of the results on the My School site had created a very competitive environment.

Teachers, parents, schools, academics and education groups generally all came forward to have their say during this inquiry, and they said with a near unanimous voice: 'NAPLAN testing has drifted away from its original purposes and it is time for change.' It is time to make sure that NAPLAN works for students, not the other way around. It has become a high-stakes test, but it should not be that way, and it does not have to be that way.

Although there was a lot of confusion in the evidence before the inquiry about the purposes of NAPLAN in the first place, one thing is very clear: NAPLAN was not designed to evaluate school success, so it should not be used to rank and compare schools. This competitive environment has also seen a commercial spin-off, so we have had everything from NAPLAN training books and teddy bears to specialised after-school tutoring sessions.

The evidence presented to the committee was clear: the data that comes out of the NAPLAN test should be used to help parents and teachers track how a student is going and to help them. But we have actually created a competitive spirit where schools are increasingly holding dedicated time teaching to the test, drawing time and resources away from other important curriculum areas. One survey found that 66 per cent of teachers believed the test damaged student wellbeing. And teachers are asking not to teach the NAPLAN year levels because of the extra burden and parental expectations. Schools should not feel like NAPLAN is a be all and end all test. It is simply a snapshot of how a student is tracking on a few areas of literacy and numeracy.

So, to combat this, the committee is recommending that the government do more to monitor the use of NAPLAN data to make sure it is helping kids, not creating a competitive environment with league tables. We are recommending that more is done to help students with a disability and from language backgrounds other than English to demonstrate their understanding. We are also recommending that the NAPLAN results get back to parents and schools much faster; at the moment there is a three-month turnaround, which drastically impairs NAPLAN's effectiveness as a diagnostic tool.

However, on the strength of the evidence presented to the committee, the Australian Greens do not believe that the committee's recommendations go far enough. If you read the report you will see that the committee's views are framed much more strongly than the recommendations that were able to be agreed to unanimously.

So, first, I note that it was the position of the coalition before the election that individual school-level data should not be published on the My School site, and the education minister has made similar statements since coming to government. On the evidence presented to the committee about the profound changes to teaching and learning as a result of the My School site, the Australian Greens would be very willing to work with the federal government to work out the best way to do this.

There is so much more I could say, but I am going to run out of time. I do want to thank the many, many parents, teachers and principals, academics and education groups who made submissions, and to thank the committee for their excellent work. The Australian Greens have tabled additional comments, which we think strengthen for the better the recommendations of the general committee report.

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