Senate Inquiry: Caring about kids.



YearOfTheChild19791979 – The last time anyone cared about kids, probably. The logo portrays a loving ‘Care for Kids’ attitude noticeably missing since 2008.

SO let me share an observation with some fair-dinkum adults who continue to care about kids. Those who care about tests will not be interested.

Treehorn is a little boy who represents all those children whom adults don’t care about, i.e. almost 100% of children between 5 and 15 years of age. You know Treehorn. He’s that very green-skinned little boy in front of your nose, appealing to you for help. All school children are this unnoticeable green.

If readers gave some thought to the feelings of school kids who have to contest Australia’s NAPLAN and then consider how adults expressed their concern about little kids’ reaction to NAPLAN testing, you might like to check the submissions to the Senate Inquiry  and read how concerned a very special cohort of Australians feels about the vomiting, sleepless nights, profuse pre-test crying and great distress that children must suffer at NAPLAN time to satisfy the egos of measurers, testucators, researchers and inquisitors. One would think that the scandal of adults treating young children this way would be a national issue up there with boat people. You would think…..

I went through the transcripts of the face-to-face exchanges between three Senators and some specially selected submitters at a public meeting [attendance figures not printed] in Melbourne. I’ll go through the written submissions themselves at another time. There are at least 83 to go through. Any researchers available?

Ask yourself….

  • Is it proper to force fear and distress on children who are compelled to attend school and forced to do the tests?

  • Isn’t there a moral issue here?

Below are extracts from  two exchanges that I found .

Since young children were used as tools for the collection of hard data [useless, invalid and unreliable] it should have been incumbent on all participants – senators, selected submission invitees and concerned contributors – to comment how each felt about child welfare during the testing processes, shouldn’t there?. You might like to check to see if I missed any other indications of genuine concern for the mental and physical health of kids during the NAPLAN months.

Ms Dulfer made a submission of behalf of the University of Melbourne and the Whitlam Institute.

Senator BILYK: I think you did some work on stress on students—self-esteem, physical health, fear of freezing, crying, sleeplessness et cetera. Can you tell me through those statistics?

Ms Dulfer : We ask teachers to comment on whether they had had any students report any of the following issues,: feeling stressed, concern that they were ‘too dumb’, fear of parents reaction to test scores, feeling sick before the test, the students freezing during the test, sleeplessness or crying. Each of those key areas came out in the research we looked at in the literature review. They were all mentioned in more than one research paper prior to that. Otherwise they would not have been included.

We discovered that up to 90 per cent of teachers responded that between one and 10 of the students in a class say to them, ‘I’m feeling stressed about NAPLAN.’ So they were not to report to us anything they had seen; they could report only what students had said to them. We certainly had the same following the concern of feeling dumb or being done. That is a real concern in education because self-efficacy is part of how students perceive themselves as a learner. If they start to perceive themselves as not a good learner, it can become a downward spiral—the literature shows us this. Some responses talked about feeling sick before the test. As well is this, we have 1,300 respondents who sent us individual comments in a section marked ‘other’ for loose form comments. Out of those, an enormous array—I am still working on the data but it looks like over half—were to do with absenteeism, students refusing to go to school, students staying at home—

Senator BILYK: For the test?

Ms Dulfer : On the days of the test, not wanting to go, either absent themselves or their teachers are absenting them. At this stage I am still trying to work on that final data about it looks as though over half of the 1,300 respondents talked about truancy issues. We are talking about all sorts of issues going on.

Senator BILYK: That is from teachers?

Ms Dulfer : That is from teachers, absolutely. It is a secondary source of data and it is important to remember that.

ACTING CHAIR: When you said ‘truancy’, you said it could also be the teachers absenting the student.

Ms Dulfer : Sorry—I meant parents absenting the student or the students absenting themselves.

Senator BILYK: I just want to play the devil’s advocate a bit here, if I might, regarding those issues about feeling sick and thinking you are dumb. I went to school some time ago, I must admit, but that is how I felt before tests. At times I felt dumb because I could not do something. Is it that unusual? I am not sure whether you were here earlier in the day, but I spoke about the interest I have in the resilience of young people—or, actually, the lack of it these days. Shouldn’t we, in the education system, be preparing our children for the fact that they might not know everything, or that they might feel butterflies in their tummy before a test, but it is quite normal? I am just playing devil’s advocate; I am a bit concerned that there is a whole lot of emphasis put on these things, but I do not know that we are actually dealing with it the right way or that it is being interpreted the right way for it to be dealt with. Rather than say, ‘No more NAPLAN’, shouldn’t we be saying, ‘Okay, it’s quite normal to feel a bit nervy before a test’, or whatever, and teach kids some resilience about it?

Ms Dulfer : When we look at the research around anxiety and testing, there are two components to it that start to play out. One is that when students are overly anxious their cognitive ability actually reduces, so they are actually unable to represent themselves properly within the test; they start to do poorly in their own test results. When that starts to happen you often end up with this downward spiral: ‘I’m concerned that I’m dumb, I’ve proven that I’m dumb, oh no’—and down they go. The second thing is that the test has that impact on the student in that the test makes them nervous, makes them anxious.

Senator BILYK: Sure, but that is nothing new in tests.

Ms Dulfer : No, it is not. And anxiety at a very low level is actually very helpful. We have research that says that some anxiety is very good. However, there is a point at which anxiety tips the balance and has a very negative and very damning effect.

Senator BILYK: How do you know from your research if that level has been tipped or not?

Ms Dulfer : We don’t, and that is why further research needs to be taken into account.

Senator BILYK: So, you are not actually saying, from your research, that the anxiety levels—the issues we have just discussed—are necessarily bad and are necessarily the fault of NAPLAN? It is just that we need to teach kids strategies—which I think we do for their whole life anyway, and I am very concerned that it does not seem to happen anymore—to deal with those? Is it that we need to teach them to deal with negativity, in fact?

Ms Dulfer : Yes, we do need to teach kids strategies and so on. But I think I want to look beyond the blame game of, ‘It’s the students’ fault, because they’re getting stressed’ or ‘It’s the teachers’ fault, because they’re putting the stress on to the students’. This stress is coming from somewhere, and it is coming, effectively, from the policy arena.

Dr Rice : One of the things we have talked about is that students and teachers are effectively responding to what goes on around NAPLAN and going back to how the results are necessarily used. One of the ways I see a connection here is that when we talk about assessment we talk about formative assessment and summative assessment and so on. It is important that we test students, and it is important that they get feedback. If you are testing a student and they are being provided with feedback immediately that allows them then to build on their learning, then no: they should not be getting stressed about that.


Mr Randall is the Chief Executive Officer for ACARA, the producer and controller of NAPLAN. He has been reported in the dailies as saying that the creation of stress was an integral part of NAPLAN testing and that children need to learn to live with it. [I reckon that’s a peculiar attitude. How about you? Or…don’t you care?]

Senator BILYK: To me the issue is: is having NAPLAN the cause of this extra anxiety? Is it a case of: it is so stressful that we should not have it? Or is it a case of: yes, sitting a test, if you are in third year, might give you butterflies in your tummy and all, but the way we deal with that needs some working on, maybe, in some schools?

Mr Randall : Are you describing how I feel when I sit up here?

Senator BILYK: Do you get butterflies in your tummy up there, Mr Randall?

Mr Randall : I am not going to say it now!

Senator BILYK: I did when I used to sit that side of the table.

Mr Randall : That might be light-hearted but, going to your last point about the anxiety and stress, I am going to reinforce a couple of points that go to your question. I am not questioning that it occurs—

Senator BILYK: No, and neither am I. It is how we deal with it that is my concern.

Mr Randall : but I am questioning, and I will challenge the Whitlam Institute, and I will question even some of the APPA methodology as to how they generalise and draw out from those things, and we could even unpack some of these things. So your point is right: we do have an event—we have NAPLAN there, which says, ‘That is what is going on,’ and it becomes a focus for those things. I will share with you my anecdote, my case study. Do not tell my wife I am sharing this story with you!

Senator BILYK: We won’t send her Hansard, then, Mr Randall, and we hope she is not listening!

Mr Randall : My year 3 son was more stressed about doing his presentation, speaking in front of his class, then he was about NAPLAN. I cannot generalise from that; it is a little anecdote.

Senator BILYK: But how do we deal with that? That is my concern.

Mr Randall : Now I will get into trouble! His teacher dealt with it beautifully. I was not there; my wife had to get him out from under the table to get him to school. Teachers, in the main, deal with it beautifully. His teacher worked with him and had a chat to his mum and at the end of the day he came home with a little merit card for being brave and standing up in front of his class. So he worked that through.

As to the issue that is in here and whether it is NAPLAN, there is a little bit of hype that comes in around this. I will go to messages about it and we will find the cases where school principals and others are reporting it. This is part of the normal course of the day. Again, that is in this same data here. It is the complement of some of this data. There are a lot of cases where it is just working beautifully and smoothly and schools have got it in perspective and are managing it well, and then there are the other cases. So we need to understand that it is not uniform through every school and for every child. We also need to understand how we work it through NAPLAN. We can talk about the information and making sure people understand. The APPA survey identifies the misunderstanding of school leaders and others in how we understand that. We can also then talk about that, as we change the basis and move online in a number of years, so that, likely—

Senator BILYK: You can read my questions!

Mr Randall : Again, we have to bed these things down and work it through the ministerial council and all the others, but you move it online, and then you can broaden the window—I would not go as far as what Norm was saying, in terms of a pause function and all those other things yet, because you have to check out how you want to use this data and so on—but it does not become the focus. The media will be upset with us because there will not be an event that they can focus on on the first Tuesday of May or something like that. We are talking about stretching it over a broader window of time—a couple of children doing the assessment in the morning and another couple doing it in the afternoon, while the rest of the class gets on with things. That is part of the way you can administer it differently.

We inherited the NAPLAN from states and territories. It was designed by the ministerial council back in 2006-07. Our view is that we need to learn from some of the things here and, while still being able to achieve the purposes, build upon them.

ACTING CHAIR: As you are moving the test online and adapting the administration of it, is a conversation occurring about moving the league tables offline?

Mr Randall : My School is not league tables.

ACTING CHAIR: Are there any discussions around removing the public dissemination of data, moving the comparative data from schools offline?

Mr Randall : I am conscious that there is discussion about it. We have heard today a whole range—

ACTING CHAIR: So you are discussing it at that level?

Mr Randall : If you are asking whether there is discussion around My School within the ACARA Board, the answer is: no, there is not. Around the ministerial council, we had discussion—I would need to go back to the minutes—about what features may and may not be added to My School in the next few years.

ACTING CHAIR: Is there any discussion about what features of My School might be taken out?

Mr Randall : Not in those forums.

Senator BILYK: Getting back to the computer based assessment, we have heard from a number of people that having the NAPLAN test in May but not getting a response until September is causing difficulties. I am wondering what comments you have to make in regard to that. We did hear that a lot today. There is quite a time lag there. One would presume, if things are done online, that there might be a quicker way of doing assessments. Is that correct?

Mr Randall : Yes, it is correct.

Senator BILYK: Maybe we could look at what time of year NAPLAN is held, or is May set in stone?

Mr Randall : Let me answer that in two parts. The first part is that, with moving it online, we are talking about tailored testing, where as young people come on they do the same first third of the items and then, depending on how well they do, they get branched up to more challenging items or down to less challenging items. They do those items and then get branched up again, go back to the middle or go down. So you get a better spread, and you are actually finding out more about what each young person can do. There is a whole range of validity and reliability things that are addressed there. We will need to design it so it is actually marking as children go, so a certain amount will almost be able to be returned straight away. In the current form, it is on a common scale, and we have been able to scale everyone. We are looking at a couple of features, and, again, this is investigative; I will ultimately need to take these things back to the ministerial council. The ministers agree on these things and setting these frameworks. We are working that through with the ACARA Board, and then we will go to the ministers.

I have cited some of the features that we want to address. They include: reflecting the curriculum, having tailored testing so that we get a better assessment of what each young person can do and having a shortened period before the data comes back. We will look at whether we can return some of the raw data, and, later on, the scaled data, to schools. We will investigate all those things. We will work with groups like APRA and the states and territories to address those. We will be keeping an eye on the issues that have been aired here today and, as I said at the last Senate estimates, ticking off the sorts of things I think the design of our move to online assessment will be able to address.

Senator BILYK: I want to ask about the link between the National Partnership for Literacy and Numeracy and the NAPLAN testing. The department might want to answer the question. Can you talk me through that and what would happen if we did not have the NAPLAN data?

Dr Day : The literacy and numeracy national partnership and the Smarter Schools National Partnership, under the low SES communities national partnership, have relied on NAPLAN data to look at how they can improve school performance of young people. There has been significant evidence presented to the department through the state and territory reports about the positive effects of NAPLAN making a difference and teachers becoming assessment literate and using this to change practice.

The department is aware of data that indicates that the investment has improved literacy and numeracy outcomes of young people in a majority of the schools in the literacy and numeracy national partnership. It is the same for the low SES national partnership community schools. So, NAPLAN has had the effect of data being used in a sensible and sophisticated manner as an evidence base to drive and lift the performance of students. That is a really positive thing. In the Barkly Region of the Northern Territory—I think we outlined this in our submission—Jingili Primary School have used the data to have an intensive year 6 spelling and grammar program, which has led to other results as well.

The Better Schools case studies on the DEEWR website point to a number of those schools, and I will highlight Leichhardt State School in Queensland for senators this afternoon. Earlier today, we heard some interesting comments about how we can extend those students at the top, and Leichhardt State School has done that. They have been able to contract the tail at the bottom end of the standard deviation and also extend the students at the top end. So there are some really positive effects of NAPLAN being used, in a productive sense, in schools under the low SES NP schools. One of the other things is that investment has flowed to some of those schools to improve their literacy and numeracy.

Senator BILYK: Some of the submissions have argued that NAPLAN does not test to the higher-order skills. I am interested in your perspective on those comments.

Mr Randall : I have said before how we will align NAPLAN to meet the Australian Curriculum. We now have. Before, the basis of NAPLAN was something called the Statements of Learning, which was a document developed and agreed to by states and territories, and that became the reference.

The Australian Curriculum involves higher-order skills. We are now doing the work to develop assessment frameworks, which will be used for future NAPLAN, based upon the English and mathematics curriculum and drawing out the literacy and numeracy of that and then taking that forward. I think that by design we will change the nature of it.

We are also wanting, through our sample assessment program, to introduce better assessment around what we call our general capabilities—critical and creative thinking, intercultural understanding and a whole range of general capabilities. We will also be working and keeping in touch with some of the work led by Melbourne University through their collaborative problem solving work, which will be a feature of PISA in 2015. So some international work led out of Melbourne University reflects features and lines up with what is in the Australian Curriculum. Having the Australian Curriculum, which is being taught around the country, enables us to use that as a base and, in the mode of assessment I have talked about, to address some of those issues.

Senator BILYK: Can you explain to me the sample assessment program.

Mr Randall : In addition to the full cohort assessment program, which is NAPLAN—literacy and numeracy—we have sample assessment programs in civics and citizenship, science and ICT on a three-year cycle. ACARA has an undertaking to come back to the ministerial council later this year with proposals about how, on the basis of the Australian Curriculum, that sample assessment program might change and go across a greater range of the curriculum. I note, as I said in answer to an earlier question, that the other thing we need to take account of—with the proposal yet to be resolved and given to us in a direction from the ministerial council—is the discussion at the moment around introducing science into our full cohort testing program.

Dr Day : Can I just add that the NAP also comprises international sample assessments as well. Mr Randall has spoken about the domestic assessments, but the NAP also comprises PISA testing, which is sample testing of 15-year-olds across Australia; PIRLS, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study; and TIMSS, which is the maths and science study at year 4 and year 8. It also includes ICILS, which is the International Computer Information Literacy Study, which will be held this year, I believe. So there are two aspects to the NAP itself—both domestic and international assessments.

Senator BILYK: Okay. Great.

ACTING CHAIR: So there are a lot more opportunities for anxiety!

Senator BILYK: Or for learning to deal with anxiety, in that sometimes we do not all have lovey-dovey, warm feelings in life and maybe we need to know how to deal with those that are not so pleasant. That is my little soapbox speech for the day!

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Senator!


Phil Cullen, No.83 pleading with politicians to Guide Our Nations School Kids Intelligently Let’s REFORM the system for the benefit of kids….NOT FOR ACARA. SCORES.

Gonski with NAPLAN attached ?? Think about it. Is it possible?

Gonski = Funding only; Gonski-NAPLAN = Learning

Can ACARA be kept away from children?


Phil Cullen AM B.Ed.,A.Ed., Dip.Ed.Admin, M.Ed..Admin[Hons].



41 Cominan Avenue,

Banora Point 2486,

07 5524 6443


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