Why You Can’t ‘Prepare’ Kids For NAPLAN

Why You Can’t ‘Prepare’ Kids For NAPLAN

The national testing season begins on Tuesday May 12 as children in Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 around the country sit the writing, spelling and grammar tests of the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). Reading and numeracy will follow on Wednesday and Thursday. So, what can you do to improve your child’s performance in NAPLAN between now and then?

Picture: Michael Coghlan


It is not a test you can “prepare” for. And making it a big deal won’t improve students’ performances, although it may increase their anxiety and reduce their performance.

What is in the test?

NAPLAN is given a lot of media and teaching time each year, and is the core of the My School website. Many important decisions are made by teachers and parents on the basis of the results. Yet, very few know what is in the tests, or what they seek to assess.

NAPLAN is not connected to the Australian curriculum, so it is not an assessment of the content students learn each day at school. NAPLAN’s reference document is the “Statements of Learning“.

It is a general assessment of literacy and numeracy proficiency, providing a snapshot of how kids around the country answer a particular set of maths and English test questions one day in May. How your children perform will be the result of all their years at school, not what they did in the weeks leading up to the test.

In the writing test students are given a writing prompt and 40 minutes to produce either a persuasive or narrative piece of writing. The time limit of 40 minutes is nonsense (since when has speed been a mark of good writing?), but the marking criteria for the writing are sensible.

Writing is marked for its appeal to audience and its overall structure; the ideas within the writing and the logical connection of those ideas; the use of literary tools to build characters or persuade the reader; sentence structure; depth and breadth of vocabulary; paragraphing, punctuation and spelling. Each criterion is weighted differently, with appeal to audience, sentence structure and spelling attracting the most marks.

The spelling and grammar paper tests whether students are over reliant on “sounding out” when spelling, and whether they can use Standard Australian English.

The reading paper tests whether students can do more than decode the words on the page. It tests the extent of their vocabulary and whether they can infer information from texts.

Teaching to the test

A newly qualified teacher I know was asked by her supervisor what she was doing to prepare her class for NAPLAN. She replied “I’m teaching them”.

Great answer, although her supervisor was less than happy with her response.

Around two thirds of schools will spend several hours a week on test preparation as the new school term begins. This spurt of “teaching to the test” is not only ill-conceived, it is damaging.

Last year, scores in the writing test dipped. The curriculum and assessment authority (ACARA) which oversees the test, suggested it was because of “over preparation”.

That’s a polite way of saying — “stop making your kids learn essays by heart”. It doesn’t help students in the test, and it is probably changing their general attitude to writing.

Q. How many formulaic persuasive essays on school uniforms/canteen food/staying up late does it take to turn a child off writing?

A. Not many

As the old truism goes — it doesn’t matter how many times you weigh the pig, it won’t get any fatter unless you feed it. Test preparation is not teaching and it wastes valuable instruction time where students could be learning literacy and numeracy skills — skills which will serve them well one day in May when they are asked to do a national standardised test.

So — why do we have NAPLAN?

ACARA claims two purposes for NAPLAN test results.

  1. Provide information on how students are performing in order to support improvements in teaching and learning.
  2. Give schools and systems the ability to measure their students’ achievements against national minimum standards and compare student performance across states and territories.

Unfortunately only the second purpose is realised, as evidenced by the annual league tables and the competitive chest puffing of Education ministers around the country when the results are released.

The promise that the test will guide the allocation of funding and support to failing students has never eventuated.

No funding is allocated to provide interventions for identified students who are failing. We waved goodbye to that possibility when we waved goodbye to the Gonski reforms.

Is NAPLAN good for anything?

NAPLAN does have the potential to shed interesting light on students’ learning in a point in time, and offer valuable information about what needs to be done next to improve literacy and numeracy achievement.

Careful analysis of the spelling test results may reveal that poor spellers over rely on phonics. The writing samples may reveal that poor writers have little control over literary language, and instead write like they speak. The reading test may reveal poor readers have limited vocabularies and an inability to read complex clausal structures, reflective of their instructional diet of “readers”.

But little diagnostic use is made of the mountains of data about student learning the tests generate. Schools have neither the time, capacity, or knowledge to do the kind of analysis work that can shed real light on the individual struggles of their underachieving students and how they can provide suitable interventions.

Until minds and resources are put to the task of doing something meaningful with the data collected each year, NAPLAN is just a snapshot of what children could do one day in May — and not much else.The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Misty Adoniou is Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at University of Canberra.


  • qld teacher here.

    with naplan results comes a lot of pressure and push from within regional centres to improve overall results. naplan is a great diagnostic tool to help us analyse individual student weaknesses and strengths across numeracy and literacy, it also helps us gauge where our students are, how they are travelling compared regionally across the nation. this is most important in remote areas where we can compare like schools and low-high social economic areas.

    so like i was saying – once we receive the results, we spend ALOT of resources and time developing strategies to improve the results for say… year 7 students, before they reach year 9, we have 2 years to demonstrate how we will pickup these students to move above or beyond the national average.

    this is a stupid article that doesn’t explain the value for schools and students. from a parent/community perspective, teachers are never valued, and the tools they use to help improve results aren’t valued either. what a shame.

    • I completely disagree, as a student in year 7 a couple of hours away from actually taking the Naplan test I think that its stupid to believe that we can teach students the Naplan test. Like yeah we can teach strategies and sh*t but no one knows what the content is until the test so how are we meant to prepare for something that we don’t know. Furthermore schools don’t really pay attention to marks and what students did wrong during the test, really its more about the student looking at their own progress.

  • The other issue with Naplan, is your children are tested in May, and get their results in September. From there, the school judges their progress as their standard in May.

    The major problem here is that 3 months schooltime, attendance, lessons etc can drastically improve or affect a childs performance. A teachers pedagogy can be so strong it can aid a child dramatically, or like last year for my son, their pedagogy can be so harmful and weak, it can make that student drop in marks.

    Let’s look at an example. So a kid during Naplan gets placed in the ‘substandard’ band in literacy for example. In 3 months that child has excelled dramatically, enhancing themselves. NAPLAN results come in, the child is determined to be ‘below par’ due to 3 – 4 month old Naplan results (Sometimes 5). Child is then placed into certain programs to aid them (in a public school, this happens quite a bit) or is allocated funding by the state (btw as stated above, this is purely a theory. It has not effectively happened. It’s a joke) to assist them despite progressing when they don’t need it. This can cause all kinds of issues, from ruining a childs confidence to plain confusing them.

    Naplan is a standardised test that checks only the very core basics, ‘reading writing and arithmetic’. It does not check or test for anything the children are actually taught in class, it may infact test them on things they know *nothing* about. It doesn’t check for spatial intelligence, musical intelligence or any other form of intelligence pioneered by Howard Gardeners multiple intelligence theory. This is definitely a shame, because when I’m setting up my classroom, the last thing I want to do is focus solely on the ‘three core intelligences’, when the fact is, most kids are different, most kids learn in different ways and Naplan *never* takes that into account, because it cannot.

    TLDR? Standardised tests suck, they’re not good for your childs development and NAPLAN is one of the worst out there. No teacher worth their salt would ever recommend your child doing NAPLAN for their personal benefit. I know I wouldn’t. My sons not doing it next year in Grade 7 that’s for sure.

  • 1. Provide information on how students are performing in order to support improvements in teaching and learning.

    2. Give schools and systems the ability to measure their students’ achievements against national minimum standards and compare student performance across states and territories.

    you missed one…

    3. use naplan results to hit teachers over the head and give them more work and more hassle to deal with in an already crowded and over worked curriculum

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