This week, students around the country from Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 have undertaken the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, an annual nationwide measure through which parents/carers, teachers, schools, education authorities, governments and the broader community can determine whether or not young Australians are developing the literacy and numeracy skills that provide the critical foundation for other learning and for their productive and rewarding participation in the community. NAPLAN results allow parents/carers and educators to see how students are progressing in literacy and numeracy over time – individually, as part of their school community, and against national standards.  

There continues to be a great deal of debate in educational circles about the merits or otherwise of such large scale assessment measures. Like the VCE Certificate, NAPLAN is a particular type of measure and it certainly should not be considered the definitive measure of a student’s worth or indeed their potential for academic success. These tests can, however, provide useful insights into individual, cohort and school strengths and areas for development. At Lowther Hall, NAPLAN data is triangulated with our own internal assessment data, gathered from class tests and tasks and with the independent benchmarked external testing that we have the girls undertake every second year which is managed by Academic Assessment Services. Using multiple data sets and combining these with our knowledge of each girl helps us to build a profile of her as a learner which teachers can use to inform their planning and their work. 

This week, I have enjoyed meeting with Heads of Faculty in Senior School for a deep dive into the VCE data from last year. Teachers and leaders go through each question on each VCAA examination and draw conclusions about where to put more emphasis or provide more clarity in their teaching moving forward. Programs and subject content in earlier year levels are also adjusted to ensure that girls are building confidence in the skills they will need for later assessment, such as identifying command terms in questions or knowing how to eliminate options in a multiple choice test. In my view, assessment is not in and of itself either inherently good or bad. What can make it productive or damaging is the way that it is used, discussed and implemented. It is important that students are well prepared for assessments and that they feel they have the capacity to demonstrate their knowledge when being tested. This is why practice tasks, completing work under time conditions and rehearsal of assessment conditions is important – these things should work to reduce anxiety in the testing space and help students to feel comfortable when under pressure to recall processes or knowledge. Adults play an important role in assisting girls to de-catastrophise assessment, particularly if it goes badly. Seeing a poor result as a learning experience or an opportunity to grow can be difficult and can be something that a person with more life experience can help a young person to do. In speaking to several groups of Year 12s this week, I was pleased to hear them reflect that they feel they have learnt to study well and that they are equipped to manage the frequent assessments that punctuate the last year of school. Managing under pressure is part of the adult world and whilst it is certainly the case that large scale and high stakes assessments need to be kept in perspective, I am sure that the life-skills acquired in preparing for these will stand girls in good stead in their future workplaces, in further study and in the navigation of life in general and I believe that in this way, they are of value.

Ms Elisabeth Rhodes