I’m well aware I’m in the minority of parents who welcome today’s NAPLAN test. The majority of parents tremble at the prospect; some have openly denounced NAPLAN as nothing more than an exercise aimed at rating teacher’s performances to justify school funding and wage increases. Some say it unduly exposes children in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 to stress – that life skills cannot be reliably measured using a series of standardised tests.
To them I say: would you rather your child’s first test be in Year 12? Or are you expecting them to be admitted into the University or Tafe of their choice based on a bunch of “feel-good” qualities that only you, as their parent, know of?
Some assert periodic assessment by the class teacher is enough to determine a child’s grasp of the “need-to-knows.” Bah! How do you know it is? I have a lovely tale for you.
There are 3 Year 3 classes in Amanda’s school. Since I get around quite a bit, I know parents whose kids are in the classes adjacent to Amanda’s. Those in the class next to mine have voiced their anxiety over their children not knowing how to tell the time, or gauge probability or even simple things like their 3 times table. One particularly concerned parent even went so far as to request a meeting with the class teacher, who assured her everything is fine. “The kids are only in Year 3,” she said.
“She might say that, but my kid doesn’t even know Year 2 work,” said the parent to me.
“And when your kid gets to Year 4, she won’t know Year 2 or 3 work either,” I said.
Those parents have every reason to fear NAPLAN and every reason to want to blame the system, citing GONSKI’s findings as reason for their child’s underperformance. If you ask me, by doing so, they take on the “poor me” victim mentality and abnegate their sacred duties as parents. But that’s just me.
Meanwhile, those in Amanda’s class are not just ready for NAPLAN, they’re actually looking forward to it. As I told Amanda when we started preparing back in January, “You will silently thank me when you see the NAPLAN test. Unlike the others, you will have no fear. You will cruise through it without breaking a sweat.”
Did Amanda willingly prepare for NAPLAN with me?
At first I had to threaten her, withhold privileges and offer up rewards in exchange for compliance but the day she aced a practise maths test, as the only one in her class (and I suspect all 3 classes) to get a perfect score, she came to me and said, “Thank you mama. You were right. I have nothing to fear now.”
Oh, and in case you think tests like NAPLAN only produce book-smart children, think again. Preparing for NAPLAN has taught Amanda discipline, perseverance, the need to read and understand a question before tackling it, it has primed her to think critically, to see how what she knows can be extrapolated to fit different scenarios.
Unlike in Asia, where it is all about memorising tables or facts, the Australia education system puts emphasis on knowledge application. Take maths for instance. Due to Mrs B and Mrs D’s stellar teaching of the current curriculum, Amanda can not only tell time but tell me how many hours and minutes there are until a particular time. She can convert hours into minutes and back into hours, if need be. Or divide a bag of 64 cookies among 4 people with ease. She can tell me how much change I should get from $10 if items purchased are $1.50 and $2.70. Or the probability that the items I’ve bought are one kind or another. She knows that ½ can be expressed as 2/4, 3/6, 4/8, 8/16 and an infinite number of fractions, and that they all mean exactly the same thing.
When it comes to English, she can easily write 2 to 3 pages in support of a particular argument, with a decent introduction, ending and 3 points in between. She can spot misspelled words, faulty grammar, provide correct punctuation. She comprehends syntax and semantics. What more can I, as the parent of an 8 year old, Year 3 student, ask for?
Since you don’t know my child, you may ask me, “How does all this help foster creativity? Independent thinking?”
I will answer you, “Look at that wonderful house you live in. Would you still be happy to live in it if it wasn’t built to safety standards? What are safety standards but a bunch of numbers calculated based on size of dwelling and strength of materials used? Yet, those numbers are necessary, aren’t they? Regardless of how wonderful the building looks, how eco-friendly the design is, how well it blends in with the environment, you wouldn’t want to live there for a second if you couldn’t be sure that the thing will hold its form without collapsing on you.”
“Same goes for the bridge you drove across this morning on your way to work. Or the medicines you took with your morning coffee. You want quantifiable facts in support of what you consume, because “feel-good” based on nothing solid is simply a con.”
The same, dear readers, goes for education. You want to be dead certain your child is on track for his or her Year; not just based on your personal bias because that’s playing a very dangerous game with your child’s future. He or she will not thank you when failing to get into the course or university of their choice. Of course, if you’ve been playing the anti-establishment, anti-system, anti-convention game so far, you can continue to do so by blaming the system, the establishment, convention and everyone around you.
However, since the dye has yet to be cast, I urge you to cast your view towards wider society where progress is made by mastering and building on the basics. Even if your child were to be as creative a person as Lady Gaga, for whom neither maths nor English is necessary, aren’t you the least bit concerned that he or she might be taken for a ride by his or her accountant or manager? Think about your various criticism’s of NAPLAN and broaden your perspective to take in ALL of your child’s future. You’ll realise that if you embrace orthodox schooling, embrace regular attendance, embrace standardised testing, and help your child prepare for these challenges, you have nothing to lose but everything to gain, in the form of a well-educated, well-rounded child.