NAPLAN nerves - mothers speak out

Old Bar mother Jo Mountney with her daughter Ella Mountney and son Johnathon Black is concerned about the stress her daughter went undertaking her first national test last week.

Old Bar mother Jo Mountney with her daughter Ella Mountney and son Johnathon Black is concerned about the stress her daughter went undertaking her first national test last week.

ELLA Mountney couldn't sleep, couldn't eat.

The eight-year-old year three Old Bar Primary School student was one of hundreds of Manning Valley students to last week sit a series of National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests.

Her mother Jo, watched her "normally confident and competent young lady" become "very distressed about the looming NAPLAN" and "show strong signs of anxiety."

"Monday afternoon my daughter came home from school very distressed about the looming NAPLAN, scheduled for the next day. She couldn't sleep, she ate very little for dinner and again at breakfast on the Tuesday morning," Jo said.

"I truly question what the schools are saying to the children. While the schools deny putting pressure on them, I find it difficult to believe this pressure is being created by the individual. These kids are as young as eight-years-old for crying out loud!

"Schools are too busy prepping their kids so their schools look good. There is no benefit to the child, their learning, or the family. It's all about government statistics. The reality is, the schools end up with the opposite of what they were hoping to achieve.

"My daughter was so stressed out she completely misinterpreted the instructions for one of the literacy tests. That whole section will be wrong. There would have to be more kids that this happens to.

"Anxiety can completely shut down one's capacity to function. Anxiety triggers the fight or flight reflex, no one is going to have good results under those circumstances."

Echoing Jo Mountney's concern is Kerrin Simpson also of Old Bar. Her son sat NAPLAN in 2011.

"I made an effort to downplay its importance, but he still felt the stress," Kerrin said.

"He came home that afternoon with a big grin on his face telling me he was the first to finish the tests. Unfortunately that was the problem though, he placed so much importance on being the first to finish that his accuracy was impaired and he made silly little errors he normally wouldn't make.

"It was clear from his book work and teacher's feedback that he was doing okay.

"When adults are anxious they don't function properly, and children are no different. NAPLAN is wrong, especially for children so young.

"He didn't sit NAPLAN last year in year five as I just couldn't see the point. Needless to say he was thrilled with that decision."

St Joseph's Primary School principal, Mark Mowbray last week sparked community debate about NAPLAN in the Manning River Times. The respected principal described NAPLAN as "a very poor way of judging a school."

"Governments have changed assessment to become a very high stakes test and it is cause for concern that we assess the success of a school on their NAPLAN results as opposed to how they impact on their community," Mr Mowbray said. "Your school is ranked only on academic performance, and that's only an average performance on one day of the year."

Nationally, this week Whitlam Institute within the University of Western Sydney released its report, The Experience of Education.

Over the last three years the Whitlam Institute has sought to examine the impacts of 'high stakes' testing on school students and their families through a progression of studies beginning with the original international literature review in January 2012, followed by a survey of teachers in November 2012 and a survey of parents in November 2013.

The latest Whitlam Institute report, led by Professor Johanna Wyn, is possibly the most significant to date and throws further light on both attitudes towards and implications of NAPLAN.

In 2013 Professor Wyn's team spent time in five communities, three in Victoria and two in NSW speaking to principals, teachers and parents. Most importantly, for the first time, they also interviewed students themselves.

The report's authors concluded that, "Although NAPLAN testing is designed to improve the quality of education children and young people receive in Australia, its implementation, uses and misuses mean that it undermines quality education, and it does harm and that is not in the best interests of Australian children."

Eric Sidoti, director of the Whitlam Institute, says it is time to rethink NAPLAN and initiate a national debate on alternative approaches.

"There is no escaping the seriousness of the report's conclusion. Any educational reform, regardless of good faith or noble intent that is not in the best interests of the students is a failed reform," Mr Sidoti said.

"It is time to open the debate. We need to ensure that the development of literacy and numeracy in our schools is assessed and reported upon in a way that enhances rather than constrains pedagogy, that evokes confidence and enthusiasm among educators rather than resignation that challenges and encourages learning rather than induces widespread anxiety and stress among students."

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