This week our Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 students undertook the annual NAPLAN (National Assessment Program in Literacy And Numeracy) tests. These Australia wide tests are designed to demonstrate the extent to which students across the nation are travelling against a range of outcomes in reading, writing and mathematics. National testing programs such as NAPLAN have been widely criticised around the world, especially in the UK and the USA, where they are sometimes used to determine educational pathways for students and where, as a result, they are often extremely high stakes and the cause of significant anxiety. We are fortunate in Australia that the tests (by comparison with their overseas counterparts) are relatively well conceived and are used by most educators and educational institutions as one piece of a data set to determine learning priorities for students.

No matter how good they are, however, any large scale tests, nationally administered, are likely to be relatively blunt instruments. It is why they must never be the only measure we use to evaluate students. William T Randolph, the Commissioner for Education in Colorado, likened the situation to fishing: “To solely use standardised achievement tests is like casting a net into the sea – a net that is intentionally designed to let the most interesting fish get away. Then, to describe the ones that are caught strictly in terms of their weight and length is to radically reduce what we know about them. To further conclude that all the contents of the sea consist of fish like those in the net compounds the error further. We need more kinds of fish. We need to know more about those we catch. We need new nets.” 

Bill Lucas, Professor of Learning and Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester in the UK and advisor to the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority in Australia, has recently issued a paper echoing Randolph’s sentiment and calling for new ways of thinking about assessment that are aligned with the needs of the post-school world our students will enter. Specifically, he argues that assessment is needed of knowledge, of skills and also of character and that it needs to be highly nuanced, multimodal and focussed on what young people can achieve. (Rethinking assessment in education: The case for change, Centre for Strategic Education, 2021) 

I am pleased to reflect on the way assessment takes place at Lowther Hall. Alongside traditional tests of knowledge, girls have an opportunity to complete additional certifications such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, which assess and recognise skills, service and character. The “Colours” system in Senior School serves as an assessment of commitment and reliability and the Qualities Certificates in Kindergarten to Year 6 recognise the development of many dispositions that will be vital in the adult world. Our pastoral and well-being programs also assist girls to assess their own social and emotional health, their strengths and to bring metacognition into play in their learning and their relationships. 

NAPLAN might be one of our more visible assessment tools, but it certainly sits within a deep and nuanced suite of tools used to gather data about our students. It is important that we continue to remember, and value, the many ways in which our girls are able to show us what they are capable of.

Ms Elisabeth Rhodes