My family reside in a small town in regional New South Wales (NSW). My mother visited us in Canberra last week and we talked about the progress of some of the kids in the town on the most recent National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) in Australian schools. I was surprised to hear that the performance of the students in their year 9 exam would determine their eligibility to sit the final exit exams in NSW known as the Higher School Certificate (HSC). There has been much frustration in the education sector about the lack of consultation in the process of this approach, with educators calling to the forefront of the debate the fairness of the pre-disposition of student performance in being able to sit the HSC.
NAPLAN has been debated in many forums in education including teachers, parents and education commentators. The interest in this form of assessment is not only in its validity to accurately and fairly assess student performance, but also the use of the results for purposes such as funding and student progression. This most recent fear mongering tactic associated with the NAPLAN has resulted in what one principal has described as a “significant increase in anxiety” for Year 9 students, with its focus on a narrow band of measurable skills distracting from the creative and lateral thinking central to success in later life.
In 2009 I was teaching in a small school and we were in the second year of administering the NAPLAN tests. Even though it had only been two years since the inception of the program, the students and their families already knew what the exams meant for their schooling for at least a week as teachers fought to put a positive spin on sitting the tests. In this particular school, attendance for the test was connected to our funding so it was important to encourage a positive mindset about the exams. It is difficult however to promote positivity when the act of education and learning for the period of the NAPLAN comprised of sitting at a desk for a duration answering often meaningless questions as there were many which my students were unable to connect with.
The added layer of the HSC for NSW students will mean anxiety. My mum commented on how anxious this news had made some of the kids in the town especially as it was made relatively recently. It is understandable that young people feel pressured, deflated and frustrated at this system, as it was isolating them from controlling their later years of education due to performance in perhaps more unruly earlier years. I recall being in year 9 and not having really a clue about the senior years. My main concern was centered on my social circles! It is incredibly difficult to ask a young person to consider the impact of their education performance in three years’ time and it is pure rhetoric to request educators and families to promote this scheme.