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Teaching to the test – the inherent problems of NAPLAN

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By Madeleine Scott-Murphy

To strive to have one of the most revered education systems in the world today, we need to reconsider NAPLAN.

I recently sat in a Social Policy class and was asked the following question: if Finland is the goal, if Finland is the holy grail of education policy, how do we become more like Finland? I believe one answer is to reconsider our current policy of standardised testing as a way of ranking schools and providing funding accordingly.

The biggest issue plaguing the value of NAPLAN is schools that now ‘teach to the test’. In other words, schools are prepping students specifically to do well in the tests in order to stay at the top of the ranking system, and receive greater government funding. Schools are rewarded for this approach and for other ethically shady behaviour, including not enrolling students with learning disabilities, and excluding low-performing students from the tests. Meanwhile, low-performing schools are named and shamed without analysis of the complex reasons behind their below-average results.

The gap between lowest and highest performing schools is growing, while in Finland it is narrowing. This is because Finland allocates the most funds to struggling and under-performing schools, while in Australia we used standardised tests to justify giving the most money to schools that arguably don’t need it. Nation-wide testing does not exist in Finland. Rather, schools regularly assess students, but the results are not used for liability purposes.

NAPLAN was designed to hold schools accountable, but has yet to be used to establish some policy change on improvements for low-performing schools.  

We need to change this fundamental idea that those at the bottom deserve to be there.