The effectiveness of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy.

Special Guest Writer

The Treehorn Express

‘The Treehorn Express is a tribute to those children who are forced to encounter Standardised Blanket Testing in GERM countries and are forced to suffer from the distress, a narrowed curriculum and loss of progressive cognitive development. Like little Treehorn, they are wonderful young citizens, ignored by those who are expected to care and exploited by those who don’t.




Ken Woolford has been an educator for 45 years. He has worked in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, overseas(International schools) and in two states and one Territory. He has taught in aboriginal community, State, Catholic and other private schools and currently manages a centre for about 50 homeschooling families. He has seven children (mostly graduate and postgraduate) and 14 grandchildren. He believes in empowering local professionals and parents in relation to children’s educational journeys.

Home-schooler and friend to many, many concerned parents, in this introduction to his Senate Inquiry Submission No. 61, Ken presents a succinct view of public schooling’s return to the archaic performances of by-gone years, which generated the reasons for him and his wife to “take their children away from the State”. He then provides cogent reasons for his dislike for NAPLAN. He says : ”Parents who trust their children loathe NAPLAN.”

 “Back when I attended Teachers College I was thoroughly drilled in how to run a class and a lesson – any subject, any grade. All the current Naplan texts would have fitted beautifully. Then I began to continue my professional readings and discussions, did further studies, and just sat and thought. I could ‘perform’ as a teacher, but I did not feel I was an educator.

Becoming a parent (and step parent) challenged me further. More reading, observing, thinking. After about eight years of teaching in a variety of situations, I knew I could not continue as merely a teacher. Education demanded so much of me and I loved it. Happy years.

 Now, my eldest daughter is a Head of Special Education in a State school, and feels exactly as I do. She loves her work – except the line she says she must walk, the line which allows her to keep her superiors happy and yet serve the children she works with to the degree that allows her to sleep at night. I never felt like this.

I, fortunately, have been able to set off on my own with my wife – working with parents who have taken the education of their children away from the State. They are exciting people to work with – they think, read, discuss and ‘educate’ (themselves and their families). Naplan means nothing to them – a test of old thinking. Their educational thinking has matured.

I watched Kevin Rudd at the Press Forum this week. He dwelt mainly on finance, but did mention Naplan – a ‘good idea’ he called it. Then moved on. None of the media present referred to education at all. My feedback is that parents of children in Australia’s schools overwhelmingly are indifferent to ‘big picture’ Education policies or love the ones now on offer. I’m stunned Naplan even got as far as a Senate Review.

Personally, I’m confident that anyone who listened to a panel of say, five top educators and three leading child psychologists, each talking for one to two minutes on children, brain development and education, would have to come away not just angry about Naplan, but flabbergasted at how the whole concept of education has been allowed to slowly drown by being anchored to the concept of ‘School 1960’ – which is what our governments have dragged us back to. But hey – they have done it because – that’s right – it’s popular and wins votes. Just like the boat people issue!

 For me it seems simple. Parents who trust their children loathe Naplan. Parents who do not trust or do not have confidence in their children see Naplan as the perfect intellectual pacifier – for the parents, of course.”

Phil Cullen.


 The effectiveness of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy.

Ken Woolford

The Naplan testing has been operational since 2008, but prior to this similar testing had been taking place, mainly at a state level, for some years.

It is almost universally (ie, worldwide) accepted that designing any type of competition will require the competitors to focus their skill and knowledge training on the requirements of the competition.

Naplan is basically a competition, with all the limitations that entails. It is a natural outcome that schools will require their staff to focus their attentions on having children perform (I repeat -perform) well in the Naplan competition. The major difference here is that Naplan is generally believed to be compulsory for children to engage in (nip out to any local school and ask staff – if they do know it is optional then they will also know they are forbidden to inform families of this fact). So the first pieces of misinformation about Naplan regards what it actually is and the right of parents to refuse it for their children.

Naplan’ s importance in identifying ‘needy’ schools is an incorrect assumption. Postcode is the simplest clue. Second clue is – ask the locals. Look at University admission demographics. There are already many ways to locate needy schools. Naplan is unnecessary duplication. Naplan undermines local educational expertise. Parents are now encouraged to have a distant education ‘expert’ second guess the local education team. The assumption is that the in loco professionals are not fully trustworthy and that someone at a distance, who knows neither parent nor child, can better assess the student. Someone who is objective. Unfortunately, education is a very subjective field and requires strong bonds of trust for maximum benefits. Naplan has done nothing to promote confidence in educational professionals.

Wherever Naplan came from, it was not from a panel of classroom educators and parents looking for best practice when it comes to reporting on their children’s progress through school.

  • Standardised testing is just that – standardised. It assumes participants will perform at, above or below a norm. Results are merely an indication of a child’s capacity. Naplan is a competition, it’s results are seen as conclusive.
  • Standardised testing allows for the professional to decide when and where the testing is carried out. She can optimise the situation for the child. Naplan does not.
  • Standardised testing allows the professional to access its information (via results) almost immediately. Naplan does not.
  • Standardised tests are meant to be applied in response to individual requirements. Naplan emphasises group results.
  • Standardised tests assume that a suitably qualified educator is administering the test. Naplan needs no professionals to administer it.
  • Standardised tests are repeated to ensure consistency of results. Naplan is constantly changed, so no consistency is available.
  •  Standardised tests are professionally constructed based on a wealth of data and designed to help educators narrow the options for optimising assistance to individuals. Naplan is not and does not do these things.

Creators of Standardised tests per se would be appalled to think the tests were being used to publicly compare the results of those tested. Naplan is designed PRIMARILY to compare schools and classes within schools.

I could go on.

 Teaching and learning practices can best be improved through the teaching profession, parents and children collaborating on mutually agreed practices and outcomes. Naplan offers nothing of this. The tests are designed by people who are far removed from those taking them, without consultation, and to the specifications of politicians who are responding to – well who knows? A meaningful attempt to benefit ALL students would not include a one size fits all test. No professional would recommend such a creature. Indeed, the very idea would be considered child abuse. Yet Australian governments have forced Naplan on schools and refuse to allow professionals to inform families that they can withdraw their children from it.

 Naplan is probably the most unsophisticated response any government could have to improving outcomes for children. It assumes education is located only in the school; that it is centred around a few academic areas (thus diminishing the many aspects of life that most of us find most rewarding and are not integral to the Naplan topics); that professional educators are not compromised by the unquestioning presentation of such tests and the pre test teaching required; and that parents should not be informed of the limitations of the tests and the negative opinions of many (most?) of the education profession – and indeed of other parents. Naplan needs to come with a warning label. Naplan needs to be dropped. There are any number of well designed, subject based competitions students can compete in if they so wish. Monitoring of children’s educational (not school) progress is best done through a collaborative approach of educators, parents, children and other support/family people – the proverbial ‘village’ it takes to raise a child. These teams can be supported, in turn by advisors who can be invited to offer ideas and direction. Distant bureaucrats are generally impediments.

 They answer to political masters and have no commitment to local needs.


 Phil Cullen AM FACE FACEL FQIEL Gold Medal ACEL Founder : Treehorn Express. Former State Director of Primary Education, Queensland.

41 Cominan Avenue, Banora Point 2486 Ph.: 07 5524 6443


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