Experts reassure school students and parents: Don’t worry about NAPLAN

School students all over the country are likely to have an enduring knot in their stomach this week.

Tuesday 9 May marks the beginning of the NAPLAN testing period, and experts from Western Sydney University have united to reassure students and their parents that the tests are nothing to worry about.

The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is an annual national assessment for all students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9.

All students in these year levels are expected to participate in tests in reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy.

The experts from the University's School of Education say it's all too common for students to feel anxious and worried about NAPLAN.

Dr Katina Zammit says NAPLAN is conducted under stressful test conditions, and does not take into account of the development of students' interests, their passions, or engagement in learning.

Professor Kathryn Holmes agrees. While NAPLAN test results are useful for providing information about large scale trends in student learning outcomes across various demographics, locations and school types, she says the results should only be viewed as a snapshot of one point in time.

"Parents and children shouldn't get too concerned about NAPLAN," says Professor Holmes. "There is certainly no need to purchase NAPLAN preparation books."

Dr Katherine Bates, who has held senior roles in curriculum and assessment for Government and non-government sectors, completed her doctoral thesis on the topic of 'How do visual prompts shape students' written responses?'

Dr Bates has questioned the use visual prompts in NAPLAN literacy exams, which she says can disadvantage children from diverse linguistic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds – and is therefore yet another element of NAPLAN that can be highly stressful.

"The use of visual prompts to assess students' writing ability can be problematic," says Dr Bates.

"If the test includes an image of a city landscape and asks students to write a story or present a written argument based on what they see – students from remote regions will be significantly disadvantaged as the picture does not represent something that they are overly familiar with or can deeply engage with. Their stories or arguments may not be as strong and their test results will be affected."

Dr Joanne Orlando says Australia needs to participate in NAPLAN style tests in order to be competitive around the world educationally – but it is important to remember that the results give us part of the picture.

"We need to ensure that children have a holistic approach to learning – that they learn well in literacy and numeracy, but are also exposed to art and music and all those other things that we know are important in our world," says Dr Orlando.