Are you confused by the NAPLAN test and its purpose, how to assist students in getting through without undue anxiety, or are you hunting for information on student preparation and resources? This time of year we get a lot of questions from teachers, parents and even students so we thought we would put together a quick guide to prepare you in the lead up to the 2016 NAPLAN.
You may have already entered the labyrinthine NAPLAN website, only to become completely disoriented and emerge much later feeling frustrated, dazed, and none the wiser. There really is so much helpful information there, but sifting through it can be very time-consuming and ultimately, somewhat overwhelming. NAPLAN, though, is here to stay for the foreseeable future, so we might as well become familiar with it, like it or not, for the sake of our students. Hopefully, this will help to clarify a few significant details for you, including whether or not NAPLAN tests can, or should, be studied for.
What is NAPLAN?
The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)
Every May since 2008, around a million school students in years three, five, seven and nine, have gathered their collective nerve and poured into exam rooms across Australia to sit our biggest standardised test of literacy and numeracy – NAPLAN. The tests are divided into Reading, Writing, Language Conventions and Numeracy.
Put simply, this test measures what students have been learning already in school. There is no pass or fail grade, but given the subject matter is very broad many students worry about meeting the challenge when they have no idea what to expect or how to prepare for the tests. There is no actual course of study for it and according to the NAPLAN website, there is no benefit to be gained by trying to study for it by drills or too much targeted practice, because of the purpose of the test.
What NAPLAN Is For and How Results Can Be Used
In a nutshell, the test is designed to identify strengths and weaknesses in students’ abilities, so that parents and teachers can respond individually and the government can act on any apparent problem areas, by addressing them in the curriculum. The marking criteria are available on the NAPLAN website so you can see what features are under scrutiny, if you have a bent for grammar, literacy and maths.
Schools and teachers may get a clearer indication of the effectiveness of their teaching strategies and make whatever adjustments they deem necessary to lesson content and methods to improve students’ learning opportunities and outcomes. That means, scrutinising which errors were made by a particular student, then working on areas of weakness, as well as locating strengths and extending them to a higher level. Individual student’s scores are ranked nationally, so teachers, students and their carers, are free to compare their placing with those of others.
Are test results connected to in-school assessments and grading?
NAPLAN results do not impact upon your students’ school grades or class placement. Individual schools conduct their own assessments for those and NAPLAN is completely unrelated.
For the Writing component, students will be given the same ‘writing stimulus’ from which to complete their task, and to date, they have always been directed to write one of two text-types, either a Narrative or a Persuasive text. These forms might sound daunting, but children use them all the time. ‘Narrative’ simply means ‘story’, and what child hasn’t used persuasive language when engaging in pester power, or listening to a politician or radio advertisement.
These two genres (Narrative and Persuasive writing) are selected because they are the most suitable for showing what skills and ability a student has and they are deemed essential for successful communication at a higher level, thus improving the students’ opportunities in life.
It’s important to give your students ample learning opportunities for both of these different text-types in order that they can be familiar with the standard format and conventions required for satisfying the task requirements.
The numeracy component assesses problem-solving ability and reasoning across three key learning areas: numbers and algebra; statistics and probability and measurement and geometry.
Preparing for NAPLAN
Students do not need to study for the test but ideally they should be prepared for it. That means, engaging in everyday practice in the areas that will be tested, (literacy and numeracy), and becoming familiar with the test format. The knowledge being tested is developed over time, so it’s simply impossible to ‘cram’ for a NAPLAN test. Completing practice tests beforehand makes it easier for students to go in with an understanding of the format and the kinds of tasks they will be asked to do. Most schools now offer students a practice test, (usually just the test from the previous year) within the fortnight prior to testing.
You could buy expensive sample practice-test packages online and books full of NAPLAN study tasks, but the highest advantage is most likely gained by focusing on everyday curriculum requirements and using the free test samples available on the NAPLAN website via the following link:
According to the education specialists who manage NAPLAN, the best way you can assist your child to prepare for the test is to support them well in gaining and increasing their literacy and numeracy skills. The links included above and those below, are for Australian websites that aim to do just that:
- 201 Literacy and maths tips to help your child (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Victoria)
- Achieving literacy and numeracy – parent resources (Department of Education, Training and Employment, Queensland)
- National literacy and numeracy week in NSW (Department of Education and Communities, NSW)
- Helping your child learn (Department of Education, Western Australia)
Another valuable resource is the online learning platform, Skwirk, which is used in homes and schools. Skwirk offers an enormous opportunity for students supporting literacy and numeracy across the board, while catering to different student’s individual learning styles. Although it does not specifically target NAPLAN, the underlying learning principles are the same as those sought in the testing and students are able to easily access engaging content across all areas of the NAPLAN testing components.
What is the worst thing that can happen if a student fares poorly in a NAPLAN test?
Some significant areas of difficulty have been pinpointed, enabling parents and educators to assist them towards clarification, understanding and move towards a fully functional use of those areas. And remember, the test scores don’t only indicate what a child can’t do, but show us what they have mastered, and provide records of their ongoing progress.
Felicity Wright has taught High School English and English Language for fourteen years, during which, she worked extensively on the range of state and national skills tests including NAPLAN. Now, Felicity works as a freelance writer.
Currently teachers, parents and home educators can subscribe to Skwirk using the discount code NAPLAN for a 20% discount off all individual subscriptions. Offer ends 12th May.