NAPLAN debate might be a distraction but it's the logical time to talk about it

THE principal of Newcastle Grammar, Erica Thomas, has a point when she says the debate over the annual NAPLAN schools testing has proven to be a distraction for some of the students sitting it.

Unfortunately, however, a debate about NAPLAN is really only going to take off at NAPLAN time, in the same way that we don’t have debates about the meaning of Anzac Day, for example, during the October long weekend.

The only alternative time that such discussion might have kicked off was back in December, when the 2017 results were released, and there was a frisson of interest in January after a Finnish educator, soon to take up a post at the Gonski Institute at the University of NSW, questioned the merit of “standardised” testing such as NAPLAN, which he described as “harmful” to children.

But that debate soon petered out.

Now, however, with NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes banging the drum on the scheme’s weaknesses, the full range of views about NAPLAN – and testing in general – are out there in the marketplace of ideas. Supporters and detractors alike are having their say, and if the tenor of the discussion shows us anything, it’s that Australians are genuinely and passionately interested in the education of our children.

And that, surely, is a good thing.

In basic terms, Mr Stokes is saying the publication of NAPLAN on the My School website has turned this annual test for years three, five, seven and nine students into into a rating tool for schools rather than a measurement of student progress.

While that is undoubtedly the case, to some degree, it needs to be remembered that the My School website was all about giving families “choice” in education and that choice can only be fully exercised when those doing the choosing are properly informed.

All examinations, no matter how they are conducted, will always be a “point in time” exercise. They have their limitations but if education is at its heart about preparing young people for their adult lives, then the ability to sit an examination, as a test run for future likely pressures, is surely no bad thing. Tests, whether it be NAPLAN or something else, over time, allow us to build what should be a statistically robust picture of our school system. And that, surely, is information worth having.

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This story Now is the only time to talk about NAPLAN first appeared on Newcastle Herald.