The public release of the Naplan results via the My School website results in a mixture of sentiment across the Australia. It’s all about ‘giving parents the choice’.

But what choice are parents being given? Parents now have the luxury of comparing student results across similar schools (similar SES), and seeing the “value add”, teachers in different schools have been able to produce. The My School website is a tool for comparison of schools based on the narrow criteria of standardised tests completed by individual students under examination conditions. It’s a case of ‘we’ll do it because we have the technology’.

It’s good to measure student performance and how this improves over time. It’s bad that the Naplan results are made into a tool of comparison, and become a measure of a School’s worth. Despite the platitudes that good education is broad, and that Naplan is only one measure of the School’s performance, Naplan takes front and centre stage. The truth is that apart from Year 12 Results, Naplan is the only quantitative measure available for comparing Schools. It has become for many parents, the only measure of school worth.

Some parents move their children to better performing schools, some resign themselves to the lower Naplan results of the local school and hope for the best, and others either do not care or better still, see the My School website for what it is. It’s not even academic performance which is being measured but rather performance on standardised tests.

The point is: why does the My School website make the Naplan into the tool of comparison? Newspapers across Australia publish rankings of schools across the country, speak highly of those schools which have greatly improved Naplan results. Ranking of schools means that there will always be losers. As parents (whose focus is school academic results) move their children into higher performing schools, the gap grows wider. This does nothing for the education of Australian society. What the My School website does is allow parents to focus on maximising their individual child’s academic performance. There is no regard for the wider context of education.

Using Naplan as a tool for public comparison of schools, places unnecessary pressure on Teachers and Principals. And they already have too much to deal with in our litigious and individually focused society.

As long as the Australian society is encouraged to value results on standardised tests above all else, we will not become the innovative country which we dream of. We remain traditional, conservative and conforming. It is not the standardised tests that are the problem, but the way in which value is placed upon them, and the way in which they are made public. Although progress through the hierarchy of the education system means that students will spend many hours alone learning stuff, knowledge advancement and innovation is the result of cooperation and collaboration. Students learn a lot from each other.

It would be better if the Naplan results including the comparisons with like schools, were given to the individual schools. Each School needs to know how it is performing. Let parents have the results for their own children. If they are desperate to find out how the local school has performed, let them go and ask the School for its Naplan results. It wasn’t so long ago that we did not have the My School website. Now that we have it, it is a Pandora’s box. The unfortunate result is that over time, School performances will become more skewed due to migration of academically ambitious students away from lower performing schools to higher performing ones.

Our one big hope is the parents who don’t care, and those who see the My School website publication of Naplan comparisons for what it is – a political tool detrimental to the advancement of education.

About the Author

PhD in European Languages and Cultures (specialising in Literary Translation) Department of International Studies Macquarie University