Students from Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will sit for NAPLAN tests (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy). These are standard tests for the particular year level administered by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA]. The purpose of the test is to provide Education Departments in all States and individual schools and teachers with information that shows them whether students are meeting the minimum requirements in Literacy and Mathematics and to guide them in future planning and teaching programs and Government funding.
Preparation for NAPLAN is apt to consume a great deal of classroom time in term one each year, particularly in the area of Mathematics. It is a common practice to test the cohorts of children in order to scurry around to “fill the gaps” in learning. This practise is mostly content driven so that students face the test armed with the necessary knowledge to answer a question in any of the content area of the Mathematics curriculum. If subtraction with trading is an obvious weakness in the cohort, this concept is revised. This is meant to ensure that questions relating to this area of the Number strand can be tackled with increased confidence and accuracy.
However, this approach is often disadvantageous to the students concerned. While it is necessary to have a grasp of the various content areas, it is vital that students are taught to be competent with problem solving that draws on knowledge of a particular concept. The Mathematics test does not ask students to complete a set of straightforward algorithms. It asks students to think about a given task and to be able to discriminate the best way to solve a problem. The actual content component of the problem is often quite straightforward; however understanding the process that is required to solve the problem is more challenging.
It is this area of learning that needs to be the focus when preparing students for the NAPLAN test in Mathematics. For this reason, preparation using unfamiliar ways to approach the content areas in Mathematics is a much more effective preparation technique than the drill and practice of content areas.
One of the most confusing aspects of the test is the format of multiple choice questions. This type of test can be confusing for students as it can cause them to doubt their own workings when they are confronted with four choices to a problem. This is why it is so important to prepare students with good problem solving skills plus the ability to discriminate between four possible answers to the problem. Therefore, content acquisition alone will not effectively prepare students for NAPLAN. Preparation should include a critical and analytical approach to Mathematical problem solving.
While the Literacy component of NAPLAN is different than that of Mathematics, it still demands degree of problem solving skills. In the Grammar and Spelling tests, students are provided with the choice between correct and incorrect answers. If they are not grounded in the basic conventions of grammar and spelling, it is difficult for them to make a choice with confidence. Revision of spelling rules and homophones will assist students to problem solve when faced with these choices along with teaching students how to “stop and think” in order to draw on past teachings.
One area in which many children struggle is grammar. This is evident in both the grammar and writing components of the test. Understanding the structure of a sentence and how to recognise the correct use of punctuation are essential aspects for success in this area of NAPLAN. In addition, an understanding of the parts of speech – nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns and adverbs need to be revised as these are easy aspects of the test which will simply require students to draw on past learning experiences. Understanding the meaning of these terms and how they relate to a question ensures students are better prepared for the test.
To date, the Writing test has proved to be the most challenging aspect of NAPLAN. This test is not about the quantity written, but the quality of the writing. Understanding the structure of the text type i.e. the format in which it is to be written is one essential component of text writing. For example, a good exposition will require a convincing introduction and conclusion, with a number of supporting paragraphs to bolster the argument. Sentence structure, proof reading of spelling and punctuation errors and the correct use of persuasive vocabulary are the basic tools used for solid results in the written test if students are asked to construct an expository argument.
If the written text component is literary based such as a narrative or a description; knowledge of creative language is necessary. Encouraging students to include adjectives to describe nouns and adverbs to describe verbs assists, in the construction of good literary text writing. Challenging students to use similes and metaphoric clauses also ensures a higher quality piece of writing.
NAPLAN is one type of test that is used in Australian schools to make decisions about student’s learning. While there are many other assessment tools that assist teachers in their planning and programming, NAPLAN has wider implications for education overall. It informs governments about the educational needs of our students and where funding needs to be directed. It is for this reason that students need to be prepared for the tests in a way that capitalizes on the good teaching they receive in the classroom.
For further assistance in this process, please contact Nepean Tutoring for a free consultation on how we can be of assistance to you.