I read Robert Randall’s defence of NAPLAN tonight with interest, but was annoyed by the moralising tone and the assumption that parents need NAPLAN to know whether their child is performing academically.

My children attend a government high school that sends very comprehensive reports home at the end of every term. Their results for each subject are depicted in graphs that show how many children in their year scored in each grade level and where they sit relative to their peers.

It is very clear to me which subjects my children are doing well in, as well as the subjects in which they need to work harder. But that’s not why my son won’t be doing NAPLAN this year.

naplan image

I have to admit I’ve never been a huge fan.

My dis/engagement began six years ago when my son was in Year 3 and had to learn the narrative structure: orientation, complication, resolution, CODA. I remember it clearly but he doesn’t. To me, that’s the first clue that we might be on the wrong track educationally.

His next brush with NAPLAN was relatively uneventful. My only real memory is that I was asked to sign a permission form allowing the school to place him in a separate room for the duration of the three tests. This, I was assured, was not to improve his performance, rather so he didn’t disrupt the performance of others. Fair enough, I thought.

Year 7 was a different story.* On the second day of testing, he arrived home asking whether 21/50 was a good mark for reading in NAPLAN. Obviously it isn’t, but that wasn’t why I was stunned.

So, I began asking questions. What was he talking about for a start?  How did he know his mark?

He told me that his teacher had read their marks out in class and that he had said publicly that “21/50 … 42% isn’t good”. I knew immediately that something was up because my son didn’t know how to work out percentages.

So, I asked more questions. Lots of questions. Like how his teacher knew the marks?

“Oh, well, when we did our tests, he did his”.

More questions.

Turns out that there was a spare test and when the kids were at lunch, the teacher marked theirs using his own answers as a guide. He then read the marks aloud when they returned. ALOUD.

When my son’s was read out apparently there was much jeering. He asked the teacher later if he could please not read his marks aloud in class, but the response was that he should try harder if he was embarrassed by his results.

The teacher also told the kids that they couldn’t tell anyone (including the other Yr 7 students) because the marks “weren’t final”. This was to be their “class code”.

I had a sleepless night wondering what to do. I was tempted to pull him from the third day of testing (numeracy) and report the breach, but decided to give his teacher the benefit of the doubt.

The next morning I sent my son off and said that if it happened again he should write the mark and percentage down.

He was late home that afternoon and when he arrived at the front door, I knew immediately that something was wrong. He looked a total mess.

It transpired that the same thing had happened but the teacher had caught my son taking notes of what he, the teacher, was doing. In a bid to avoid another interrogation from me, my son decided he needed evidence. As a researcher, I was secretly impressed.

His teacher wasn’t. My then 12 year old son was kept in for lunch and asked repeatedly if I’d put him up to it. After lunch, the other students asked for their marks but the teacher said that “someone had broken the class code” and told about the marks, so now no one could have theirs. Of course, everyone knew who that “someone” was.

At the end of the school day, the teacher again kept my son in, determined to find out if I knew. He was released only after he admitted that he’d told me, but he swore the idea to record was his. The teacher threatened him that it is against the law to record anyone without their knowledge.

My son was petrified. And I was absolutely furious.

After consulting some principal friends, I contacted the school. The breach was investigated by the Department which, after some months, confirmed that yes, this was indeed a breach of NAPLAN. Life went on as normal and the teacher continued to read marks out in class.

Upon entering Year 9 this year, my son declared that he is not doing NAPLAN. He is adamant that it is a waste of time and I have to agree. I know him better than anyone and I know what he is capable of. I’m not sure he knows what he is capable of, but I know that he doesn’t read questions carefully and that he rushes.

I know that his academic results reflect his approach and his attitude. I know this because when I review his work and ask him how to spell the 15 incorrectly spelt words in the stream of consciousness that he has penned, he can spell them all. He just doesn’t bother writing them correctly in his rush to get his work over and done with.

The truth is that NAPLAN doesn’t serve kids like him well. And I feel for teachers and principals because all the “NAPLAN Turbo Day’s” in the world won’t help when the issue is a mix of poor self-regulation and don’t care factor.

So, whilst I don’t agree with schools asking parents to keep poorly performing kids at home, I’m not going to make my son do something that he is dead-set determined not to do. Who on earth is that going to help?

I also can’t support something that makes a nice guy do something completely hare-brained in an effort to get his class to try harder. Whilst I’m sure this is an isolated case and that NAPLAN runs without a hitch in thousands of classrooms around the country, in this case it didn’t and I’ll never forget the experience. Nor will my son it seems.


* In 2014, Year 7 was still in primary in most of Queensland .