Why I’m so uninterested in your NAPLAN week.

The moment of truth has arrived. 

After an exhaustively negative period of debate that has felt more ideological cage-match than a contest of ideas, we stand now on the precipice of a new future for our entire country.

Of course, you might be tempted to think that I’m talking about the federal election on Saturday.  But I’m not.

It’s NAPLAN week … and the comparisons between this event on the calendar and a federal election are stark.  You don’t even get a democracy sausage for participating in NAPLAN!

On one side of the debate, you have people who tell us that NAPLAN is a critical informant of policy – that it shows us which programs work and which approaches fail.  

On the other, we hear that it’s a waste of time and money – that if we spent that money on work that can make a difference rather than that which merely measures difference then we can improve our return on investment markedly.

Here’s my take.  NAPLAN is poor measure of a school’s worth or performance.  It’s a simple, unsophisticated snapshot of a moment of time.  But, as far as snapshots go, it’s actually quite high resolution.  If you have the gumption to look deeply into the picture you can even find some things about your school that are decidedly attractive and perhaps also the motivation to address some less appealing features too.

Where NAPLAN chiefly fails is that it pays no attention to context.  Coincidentally, this is the very reason that programs of all types have invariably failed in schools.  NAPLAN, as an assessment of learning, can’t adjust from school to school in exactly the same way that prescriptive programs, as apparent facilitators of learning, can’t adjust.

Context is everything when it comes to performance.  From about the age of two we adjust our conduct to context.  When a two-year-old clings to a mother’s leg when a stranger enters the room, she is telling us that this context is now uncertain and that we can expect her performance to be impacted for a while.

You can expect the same performance dip in your school if this week feels remarkably different from the fifteen or so that have already passed in 2019.

So, I say pay attention to context more than you do your NAPLAN preparation, your NAPLAN testing procedures and also your NAPLAN results.  

Make your focus one of creating a context where students will thrive, smile and learn to love learning.  Create a connective context where young people can slowly learn how to empathise, respect and be responsible because you know that teaching or testing any of these critical capabilities “snapshot style” or via any program is futile.  

Create a context where your students can be themselves, be happy and occasionally just be.  What I think you’ll find is that your bigger purpose for teaching them will be enacted … and that they’ll probably do a bit better on NAPLAN too.

I don’t care about your school’s NAPLAN results one bit … and nor should you.  I don’t care whether you get to advertise NAPLAN highlights on electronic signs in front of your school or whether you feel compelled to sweep them under the carpet.

I care only whether your students continue to experience the same connective context this week that they would in any other.  

Obsess over context and not your NAPLAN results.  Everything’s gonna be ok.  Bang on a sausage sizzle for everyone while you’re at it.

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