Teachers raise concerns about NAPLAN

September 17, 2012

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Teachers believe that the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is not achieving its core goals of improving literacy and numeracy among school children, according to the results of a survey by a Murdoch University researcher.

Dr Greg Thompson from the School of Education also found in his survey of just under 1000 teachers from Western Australia and South Australia that the tests are perceived to be of little benefit for improving literacy and numeracy, create less inclusive classroom environments and lower student engagement.

“The majority of teachers surveyed said that NAPLAN is having a negative impact on their classrooms,” said Dr Thompson. “While we should exercise caution in drawing conclusions generated from volunteer surveys, generally the concerns that teachers express in the survey match international research about the effects of high stakes testing on schools and classrooms.”

Teachers in WA and SA express concern that NAPLAN is resulting in a narrowed curriculum focus, requiring teachers to teach to the test and adopt pedagogies that may not suit the best interests of all their learners.

The survey also uncovered teacher perceptions of increased anxiety among students, teachers, parents and school administrators as a result of NAPLAN.

“Research suggests that stress makes learning more difficult, not more likely,” added Dr Thompson.

“Trying to improve education outcomes through NAPLAN at the same time as it increases the stress of those involved learning environments would appear to be a self-defeating strategy.”

Conversely, some teachers report more positive impacts of NAPLAN, such as the program fostering school-wide strategic planning, better teacher collaboration and improved communication between schools and parents, Dr Thompson said.

“In these schools, teachers, principals and parents appeared to focus on improving communication, collaboration and mutual understanding as a result of NAPLAN in the interests of supporting students.”

Dr Thompson has shared the findings of the online quantitative and qualitative surveys conducted earlier this year with the State, Catholic and Independent authorities in WA and SA.

The survey of teachers is the first part of a three year research project funded by a $375,000 grant from the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award.

Dr Thompson is continuing to further analyse the data, and is calling for further research into the impacts of NAPLAN on other members of the school community, including students, parents, principals and other education leaders, in order to get a clearer picture of the overall effects of NAPLAN.

An executive summary of the survey responses is available on Dr Thompson's dedicated website here.

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