For many years, the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test has been a topic of controversy in the education sector. While it’s touted as a valuable tool to nationally assess student learning progress, it is increasingly becoming clear that it is doing more harm than good, particularly to the mental health of students.
Ms Kelly Ferguson, Head of School at Cairns Hinterland Steiner School explains “For some students, the pressure to succeed in the test can be overwhelming. The high stakes nature of the exam means that many of the year 3, 5, 7, and 9 students feel immense pressure to perform well, which leads to stress and anxiety.”
According to recent studies, the pressure to excel can lead to a decrease in mental wellbeing, with some students feeling overwhelmed and highly stressed. In addition to the psychological impact of NAPLAN, the test has also been criticised for its impact on teaching and learning. Many teachers feel that the test does not provide a complete picture of a student’s abilities, but instead, puts more emphasis on rote learning and test-taking skills. This can lead to a situation where students are drilled to learn how to answer the test questions rather than understanding the concepts.
“The narrow focus of NAPLAN testing comes at the expense of other subjects and activities, such as art and music, that may be equally important for a students’ development and are part of a well-rounded education,” said Ms. Ferguson.
The negative impact of NAPLAN testing is not lost on students themselves, with many expressing their dislike for the test. For students, NAPLAN can be an unpleasant experience that takes away from their enjoyment of learning with many feeling that the pressure to do well can lead to an unhealthy fixation on grades and results.
This impact is not limited to students. Educators feel the burden of preparing their students, often at the expense of other teaching and learning activities, and may see it as a reflection of their teaching capabilities. Parents can also experience stress and anxiety on behalf of their child, as low results may sometimes be equated to limited future opportunities for their child.
“At Cairns Hinterland Steiner School, we run the NAPLAN testing as all Australian schools are required to do, however, our focus is on delivering the Steiner curriculum which includes alternative assessments that concentrate on all areas of student learning giving parents a more comprehensive view of their child’s abilities and talents.” said Ms Ferguson.
“While it’s essential to nationally assess students’ learning progress, the current system needs to be reviewed to ensure that it is not doing more harm than good. Instead, there needs to be a more balanced approach to education that takes into account the importance of holistic learning and values students’ wellbeing.”
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