Pressure on pupils before NAPLAN testing

Help or hindrance? NAPLAN was designed to measure the performance of schools, but now children get anxious about the tests. These children are working on  a joint project. Picture: Wolter Peeters
Help or hindrance? NAPLAN was designed to measure the performance of schools, but now children get anxious about the tests. These children are working on a joint project. Picture: Wolter Peeters

PARENTS in St George and Sutherland Shire are paying for children as young as seven to attend private tutoring in the lead-up to NAPLAN testing in May.

Some learning centres are even holding NAPLAN workshops to boost the performance of children sitting the national literacy and numeracy assessments.

NAPLAN (National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy) was introduced by the federal government in 2008 amid much controversy to measure student progress and help schools, the government and parents understand and improve student outcomes.

The Learning Centre, which has offices at Cronulla, Bangor and Sans Souci, is advertising two-day NAPLAN workshops which cover all aspects of the exams as well as the test's format, interpreting questions and giving samples of tests.

Master Coaching Hurstville will soon offer specific NAPLAN tutoring sessions following in increase in demand, said spokesman Harry Athanasatos.

But detractors say having children tutored before NAPLAN testing defeats the purpose of the scheme, which is designed to find out how children — and their schools — are performing.

One mother described tutoring children before their NAPLAN test as "cheating".

And at least one shire-based counsellor blamed NAPLAN for more children seeking treatment for anxiety.

The Learning Centre managing director Christine Adams has declined to comment on the workshops.

A primary school teacher whose oldest child sat the year 3 test last year said she was often called on to tutor children on NAPLAN.

While she could see some benefit in better preparing children for the "very different style of testing", which includes multiple choice format and language-based maths questions, she was concerned parents were placing too much pressure on children, who then suffered "stress and anxiety".

She said while NAPLAN was useful for schools, results did not need to be made public or report cards sent to parents.

The teacher said although some schools took shortfalls in NAPLAN results on board, others went too far.

"The principal of one school in Sutherland Shire where I was working came down really hard on the teachers," she said.

Children who did not perform well under pressure or were unfamiliar with the style of testing could also do badly.

"It looks like they are not doing well [at school] but it can just be that test," she said, adding there was also a lot of competition among parents for their children to do well.

But a shire mother whose daughter was being tutored said it was not about competition, but about "mental well-being".

She told the Leader her daughter was so anxious about sitting the NAPLAN test she did not want to start year 3.

"Now she is much more relaxed and happy about the NAPLAN process, as she has had the opportunity to sample what it is like. [The] tutoring has been very beneficial to my daughter's confidence."

DIVERGENT VIEWS

The National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was introduced in all Australian schools in 2008.

Students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 sit NAPLAN tests in the second week of May to measure proficiency in reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy.

All students who take part receive an individual report outlining their results as well as a comparison with the national average.

A report analysing NAPLAN results is released publicly in two stages. The results are also used to show performances of individual schools on the My School website.

NAPLAN is considered an important tool to measure student progress and help schools, the government and parents understand and improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for all Australian students.

But not everyone is in favour of widespread testing of students, and there have been claims that underperforming students are advised to stay at home on test days so as to not adversely affect the school’s overall performance.

BAD REACTIONS

Southern Community Welfare counsellor Kerry Moss told the Leader last May that NAPLAN testing was one of the causes of an increase in childhood anxiety.

She said her Kirrawee-based non-profit organisation had observed a big increase in the number of referrals for anxiety in children in recent years.

‘‘I feel like we are creating an anxious community at the moment,’’ she said last year. ‘‘I think our education system is partly to blame. I am seeing a lot of adverse reactions to the NAPLAN testing.’’

Should parents get their children tutored before the NAPLAN tests?