What is Naplan?



Below is the copy of a letter sent to a local newspaper as a public service for those who know little about NAPLAN.

You might like to send it on to your local paper or chuckaway.


NAPLAN preparation is part of the busy-work of all Australian schools at present. Few non-school adults know what NAPLAN is, its origins nor the impact that it has on classroom learnings. It’s “one of those things that kids do at school.”

NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program Literature And Numeracy. It is a series of standardised blanket tests set for children in Years 3,5,7,9 purporting to judge each child’s level of ability on a few aspects of literacy and numeracy that the government has determined are important for a person to succeed in life’s challenges. This is an absurdity, but the political fondness for testing a few salient foundations usually overtakes common sense. Although very limited in scope, NAPLAN authorities force three days of testing each May on every school in Australia. Since personal and school reputations depend on the results, the preparation for the tests can be intense and stressful.

For standardised blanket testing to be useful for measurers, the test has to be exactly the same test given to the same grade-cohort, all at the same time under the same or similar conditions. If the test does not do what it aims to do, it is said to be unreliable. If it does not measure what it is supposed to measure, it is said to be invalid. NAPLAN tests have been judged by expert statisticians and competent teachers to be both invalid and unreliable in statistical terms and of little use for classroom teachers to make judgements about the progress of pupils. As a test of anything useful, it misses the mark.

It is now a higgledy-piggledy operation conducted on an uneven playing field. Any authority that runs such a program should be ashamed of itself.

Quality schools, conscious of the deleterious effects on Australia’s overall cognitive strength, try to minimise the impact. That’s the best they can do under extreme political force.

NAPLAN, useless as it is for learning purposes, produces a set of worthless numerical scores that politicians use to enliven their ‘educational’ statements of the political kind for a gullible public. Many Australian politicians are good at this. They use terms like ‘doing better’ or ‘doing worse’ based on totally unreliable evidence. Concerned parents need to note that their children are wasting their time contesting NAPLAN because rational descriptions of human potential are more than a series of numbers.

Most parents believe that NAPLAN testing is mandatory. It isn’t. Schools have been prohibited, up until now , from informing parents of their rights. Parents need only to drop a note to the school to tell the school that they do not want their children to indulge in the contest. The uncertain test results are not revealed for five months, in any case, by which time the damage has been done.

The intensity of preparation can be high and heavy. Time spent in and out of school on test practice, beyond normal time-table allocations, depends on each school’s judgement. The use of school time, expected to be devoted to developmental parts of the school’s curriculum, is a matter for each school or teacher to determine. The school’s guide to learning…called curriculum …is usually trashed for a few weeks – at NAPLAN time. Where the preparation is intense, more important subjects just have to give way. Overall cognitive development of children is held in abeyance; and at a time of the year when things should be ripe for progressive learning.

A growing rogue industry has recently developed in Australia providing ‘how to score better’ services to schools, individual parents and pupils by external testucating firms at cost. It is a very profitable industry. Your child could be a victim.

The cost to the government has not been revealed as yet. It is expected to be announced in May. The known costs of the marking alone is approximately $1million. The general SBT [Standardised Blanket Testing] industry in test-focussed countries has proved enormously profitable. Rupert Murdoch, who now employs Joel Klein – the founder of the Australian system – figures that on-line testing alone will add $500billion – yes, $500billion – to his coffers, in the US alone. The origins of NAPLAN lie in the profit motives of test publishers, on-line services and allied productions, and little else. It has little to do with magic improvements to learning. It has no real educative function.

Fair dinkum school-experienced Australian educators, academic teacher-educators and parents concerned for their children’s mental health oppose the tests. Testucators within schools and beyond who approve of or support the ‘gathering of scores at any costs’ seem lost and placidly support the variety of gimmickry that comes with high-status testing ….Charter School, shifting grades around, navvy-style extra-pay for test results. There is a widely-held view that if such gimmicks fail in the USA, we then copy them. Monkey say; monkey do. Done.

Concerned educators sincerely worry about the cognitive development of the present generation of school children and about Australia’s economic future. Tests of the NAPLAN kind have, historically, entrenched mediocrity. The failure of the serious Minimum Competency Movement in the US and of the Assessment of Performance Unit in Britain is only part of this history. Research indicates, also, that classroom educators believe that almost all schooling processes and any kind of imposed GERM reform will be corrupted while NAPLAN exists. There has been no plausible increase in the scores of most of the items tested over the past five years; nor should be expected any while fear-controlled testing is part of the parcel. It continues, nevertheless.

We need to ask WHY before the forth-coming elections. NAPLAN is an enormous waste of money, energy and talent.

Phil Cullen AM

41 Cominan avenue

Banora Point 2486

07 5524 6443


Note: Paul Thomson, Principal of Kimberley College on the outskirts of Brisbane,is our guest for next week.

Almost every parent of Kimberley College children has told the school that they don’t want their children to perform NAPLAN tests in a couple of weeks. They’d prefer that their children continue the College’s renowned learning-based program without unnecessary interruption.

There has been some media interest. Watch during the week for indications on Today Tonight [Channel 7], ABC TV News and,later, SIXTY MINUTES.

Please tell as many parents as possible. Those in doubt should benefit.

They might also like to read the latest : http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-coming-revolution-in-public-education/275163/


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