By Jessica Holloway
It’s that time of year again when parents and students anxiously await their NAPLAN results.
NAPLAN is a nationwide test of literacy and numeracy that all students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are expected to take. It doesn’t impact entrance to high school or university but is a measure of how a child is performing at school.
Just like every year, some students will bring home results that are lower than what they hoped for. If this happens to your child, you can play an important role in helping them overcome some of the disappointment and limit any impact on their wellbeing.
What should you say – and what shouldn’t you say – when discussing NAPLAN results with your child?
Do talk about the context
One thing parents can do for their students is to help them understand the broader context of NAPLAN.
For one thing, the purpose of NAPLAN is for the government and public to get a broad understanding of how schools are performing.
This provides important information about where to allocate more resources to support schools in need. While individual families also receive information about how their students performed, this was not the original purpose of the test.
Another key aspect is the impact of COVID cannot be overstated when it comes to interpreting this year’s NAPLAN results. Countries around the world are reporting that annual test scores are significantly down this year, and it shouldn’t be a surprise.
School disruptions might explain some of these drops, but we can’t forget the levels of fear, loss and trauma that many families have experienced due to the pandemic and floods. NAPLAN participation rates were historically low this year, which says a lot about the challenging circumstances students have faced.
Do talk about life beyond NAPLAN
Without fail, NAPLAN attracts national attention every year. To a student, it is hard to believe that NAPLAN could be anything but a very big deal.
Unfortunately, research has shown students’ self-esteem can be negatively impacted by lower-than-expected test results.
Parents can help students understand that NAPLAN is only one indication of their learning progress. They can encourage their child to focus on their strengths and other indicators of achievement. These may be achievements in subjects not tested by NAPLAN, or involvement in extracurricular activities.
Do talk to your child’s teacher
Most importantly, if you have any questions about your student’s NAPLAN results, discuss these questions with your child’s teacher.
Teachers have the most valuable information about how your student is progressing through school.
Regardless of what NAPLAN results say, teachers are the ones who spend every day watching your student grow. They are constantly assessing learning, and they will be able to explain how your student is doing and how to interpret NAPLAN scores more holistically.
Don’t compare your child’s results
Please resist the urge to compare your student’s NAPLAN results to their peers’ or even their own previous scores.
I would say this every year, but it’s even more important now. The last few years have been extremely disruptive, and families have been impacted in very different ways.
It is impossible to know exactly how the effects of the pandemic influenced each student’s NAPLAN performance. Because of this, comparisons across students, classrooms or years can be misleading.
Don’t focus on what NAPLAN ‘means’ for the future
It is critical that students and parents understand that NAPLAN is only one narrow measure of learning.
NAPLAN only provides a small snapshot of how they performed on one day. NAPLAN will never be able to capture everything a student has learned or the progress they have made.
It is also true that NAPLAN doesn’t tell us much about what a student might do in the future. Most importantly, students should be reminded that NAPLAN does not define who they are, or what they are capable of achieving.
And don’t panic!
Regardless of how your student performs on NAPLAN this year, do not panic or get overly excited.
Remaining calm and encouraging your student to see NAPLAN as but one measure of achievement is crucial for supporting students’ well-being and future prospects.
Overreactions can have multiple consequences. They can lead to unnecessary pressure to perform better next time, which will likely have the opposite effect.
They can also lead to the incorrect belief that NAPLAN scores are true predictors of what students will be capable of doing in the future. It is not worth jeopardising a student’s sense of worth simply because of one test score.