A small but determined group of teachers, parents and students gathered in the rain on May 3 on the steps of the Victorian Parliament to demonstrate their opposition to the NAPLAN tests.
The speak out was organised by the Melbourne Educators for Social and Environmental Justice, a rank-and-file group within the Australian Education Union (AEU).
The NAPLAN tests are standardised tests, meaning that students right across Australia answer the same questions from a common bank of questions. They are supposed to indicate whether students are behind, above or equal to their peers. It treats students as cogs in a machine and ignores differences, such as socio-economic background, English language proficiency, different learning styles or access to educational resources.
Politicians use the NAPLAN tests to pit one school against another in a competition that does not take these differences into account. The tests are used to blame teachers for poor outcomes, thereby deflecting attention from a lack of resources and funding for some schools, which results in less educational resources, larger classes, more difficult learning and teaching environments and a lack of support for students with a disability.
Many schools and parents become obsessed with ensuring high NAPLAN results. This leads to a narrowing of what is taught, because much time is devoted to preparing students for the tests. Less time is spent on other aspects of the curriculum, which are not being tested but are educationally important.
A very profitable industry has grown up around the NAPLAN tests. Publishing companies such as Pearson sell NAPLAN study materials and private schools offer tutoring for the tests. Some selective schools are using NAPLAN scores to select prospective students, thereby giving NAPLAN credibility. Parents, believing they are giving their children an advantage, are conned into supporting this industry.
[Mary Merkenich is an AEU State Councillor and member of the Socialist Alliance.]