NAPLAN is possibly the most emotionally charged acronym in Australian education.
The mere mention of NAPLAN can trigger stress, anxiety, blame, and passionate emotional debate. Whether you agree or disagree with the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are expected to participate.
Now is a good time to focus on how to assist those students who experience stress in the lead up to NAPLAN.
In 2015 Dr Angelique Howells completed research into primary school children’s experiences of NAPLAN. She found that although most schools and parents did not view NAPLAN as high stakes tests, some children perceived them as very stressful.
Dr Howells found two main factors added to student stress Howells, A (2015). Exploring Children’s Experiences of NAPLAN: Beyond the Cacophony of Adult Debate. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor ...continue
- The lack of clear and consistent communication from adults about the purpose of NAPLAN, and
- The difference between the NAPLAN testing environment, such as separated desks or tables organised into rows, and the everyday classroom arrangement.
What can schools and parents do to reduce the stress of NAPLAN?
- Provide children with clear, consistent messages about the purpose of NAPLAN. According to the NAP website the purpose is to
‘provide parents and schools with an understanding of how individuals are performing at the time of the tests… [and] also provide schools, education authorities and governments with information about how education programs are working and whether young Australians are meeting important educational outcomes in literacy and numeracy.’  Parent/Carer info page National Assessment Program website https://www.nap.edu.au/naplan/parent-carer-support
Simple explanations are needed to ensure children understand the purpose, with a focus on trying their best, rather than passing or failing.
- Provide parents and the school community with clear, consistent messages about how they can prepare children via emails, the school newsletter, at assemblies, and where necessary in face-to-face meetings. Parents can be directed to the Parent/Carer Support page of the NAP website for more information and responses to common questions about NAPLAN.
- Be mindful that parent and teacher attitudes to NAPLAN can greatly influence the way children approach the tests. If a teacher or parent is stressed or anxious this will impact on the child’s approach. All discussion needs to be matter of fact and not emotive. Parents and teachers who disagree with NAPLAN testing should endeavour to mask their feelings.
- Encourage parents to normalise the testing as part of the school’s regular program, just like school athletics or cross-country. As for those days, all children should be encouraged to attend, have a go and do their best. Allowing an anxious child to stay home can compound anxiety about testing.
- Discourage parents from purchasing commercially available NAPLAN practice test books, or using NAPLAN tutoring at home, to avoid increasing student anxiety.
- Provide students with the opportunity to ask questions about NAPLAN. Answer in a factual, age-appropriate way, emphasising that:
- NAPLAN is not about passing or failing.
- Students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 across Australia do the test so the Government can evaluate whether the curriculum and education programs are working.
- NAPLAN does not reflect how they are performing in all areas of numeracy and literacy. They may be stronger or weaker in areas not covered by the test. In fact, they might even be better than the test shows on that day!
- There are no prizes or negative consequences for how well students do.
- They will not be held down a year, or not accepted into high school based on their performance.
- Students should try their best.
- It is normal to feel a little nervous before tests. Feeling a bit nervous can actually help people to do better in tests. Nervousness usually goes away when we take a few deep breaths and begin the test.
- Help children to establish simple stress relieving techniques such as taking three deep breaths, saying to themselves ‘relax, relax, relax’, stretching, shaking hands, rotating neck and shoulders, taking a sip of water, and appreciating that some anxiety shows you plan to do your best, and may provide motivation and energy to help you to prepare and do well.
- Have children write or draw about feelings or worries prior to the test. Writing freely about worries in relation to a test, for 10–15 minutes before the test, can reduce anxiety and improve performance. Ramirez, G. and Beilock, S.L. (2011) “Writing about testing worries boosts exam performance in the classroom.” Science, 331, 211–213
Prepare students for the test environment and format.
- Prepare the class for changes to classroom layout and expectations during NAPLAN. Set up the classroom layout for the NAPLAN tests a few days prior. Explain to students that they may not talk during the test, and what to do if they need to go to the toilet or have a drink of water.
- If students are to complete testing online, ensure they are familiar with expectations by accessing the NAPLAN public demonstration site.
- In the lead up to testing have the class practice sitting for the time required in NAPLAN, show students how to answer multiple choice questions if this is not familiar to them.
- Before the NAPLAN testing commences, teachers should advise children what to do if they do not know an answer or get stuck on a question.
If a student in your class is particularly anxious, see the following Psych4Schools ebooklets:
- Working with children who are anxious
- Working with children who worry excessively
- For parents: Assist your child with stress and worry
Click here to read Dr Howell’s research, Exploring Children’s Experiences of NAPLAN: Beyond the Cacophony of Adult Debate.
Zoe Ganim and Murray Evely, Psych4Schools Psychologists
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