3 NAPLAN Myths Busted: Demystifying Common Misconceptions About the NAPLAN Test

NAPLANJust hearing the word ‘NAPLAN’ is enough to raise anyone’s blood pressure; images of stressed out kids, parents and teachers spring to mind. Since 2008 the NAPLAN tests have been measuring the reading, writing, literacy and numeracy skills of Australian children, and for hardly a moment without controversy. The constant media attention and politicization of the yearly NAPLAN results can lead to confusion and some misunderstandings about what these results really mean, both for individual students and across the board for Australia.

We have talked about the issues with standardised educational practises before, NAPLAN epitomises this problem.

But for now, let us demystify and debunk 3 common myths about NAPLAN, as it stands in 2018.

MYTH 1. ‘My child did not meet the national minimum standards for year 9 NAPLAN in some areas, so they will not be able to graduate with a HSC.

Myth 2 NAPLANNot anymore. The controversial move in 2016 to prevent students graduating with a HSC if they had not achieved the national minimum standards in their year 9 NAPLAN test has been revoked as of February this year. This move came after an outcry from parents and teachers who found that this had put unnecessary pressure on students at a young and vulnerable age and made the focus of education about passing tests rather than teaching skills and building up strong learners; an unfortunate downside of standardised testing.

Disentangling NAPLAN from the HSC removes that extra stress of potential long-term impacts of the NAPLAN results.

MYTH 2. ‘The national average NAPLAN results keep getting worse and worse, Australian kids are getting dumber.’

This year’s national average NAPLAN results did not significantly differ from 2017 in any field. Over the past decade of testing the results have shown some small improvements in numeracy, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and reading. The only area of concern is writing, where there was a decrease in ability across the board in most states and year groups between 2008-2017. The good news is that in 2018, the number of students meeting national minimal standard requirements for writing has not changed.

Table 2-1 Table 2-2

Examples of the number of students meeting national minimum requirements between 2008-2017, and 2017-2018 (Image from ACARA). The black dot shows no change, clear arrows represent a small increase or decrease in numbers. Data is per state. For more information check out http://reports.acara.edu.au/NAP/TimeSeries

However, results did not significantly improve in the past year either (pictured above, the black squares represent no change) The improvements across the previous decade of testing have been small, which begs the question; for all the added time, money and stress expended in the pursuit of better NAPLAN results, why haven’t we seen massive improvements in performance across the board?

NAPLAN tests are primarily diagnostic tools for teachers, schools and the education department to identify areas of weakness, and they should be viewed as just that. It would be negligent to never check in on the standards of education in Australia, but the huge focus placed on the NAPLAN tests is not making the difference in improving outcomes that would justify the pressure placed on students, and the time and money focused on this one aspect of their education.

MYTH 3. ‘NAPLAN results are the best demonstration of my child’s progress and the best predictor of their future success at school.’

NAPLAN Myth 3There are so many factors that can affect a child’s outcome in an individual test. It could simply mean your child had a bad day on the day of testing! They may have been overcome by test anxiety, such that they performed significantly below their ability level; a common response to the mounting pressure placed on students by standardised testing.

Assessing your child’s progress should be done through a combination of test results, reports and in one-on-one consultation with teachers. Standardised tests alone cannot reveal the unique abilities of every child, they simply aren’t designed to do so.

NAPLAN ResultsNAPLAN results may help identify areas your child may need more support in. Our tutors are there to help fill those gaps that may have been identified. They can also help mentor your child in exam taking preparation and teach them how to reduce test anxiety. Most importantly however, we aim to encourage each child’s strengths and empower them as individual learners, teaching them thinking and problem-solving skills to be able to overcome many challenges. And that’s an outcome you simply can’t measure in a standardised test alone.

This article was written by Anne Gwilliam, one of our tutors. 

Finding the Right Tutor For Your Child

Tutor-Student Matching: How does it work?

It is a well-known fact that as social beings, humans, especially children, learn from those they interact with closely on a daily basis. Children spend an average of 30 hours a week in school, and with other commitments like work, sporting activities and social activities, it is reported that many families now spend less than 40 minutes a day together! (The Digital Hub, 2016)

Finding the Right TutorWith the busyness of contemporary lifestyles, it is more important than ever that the role models in students’ lives are positive ones, demonstrating outstanding values, great study ethics, and everything that lies between.

Tutors, in the very privileged role of being educators who spend time one-on-one with their students, need to be the right match. This is the reason tutor-student matching is taken so seriously at Nepean Tutoring.

From the moment you pick up the phone, you may be wondering what the process is behind the scenes as your student’s tutor is arranged. While all of our tutors here at Nepean Tutoring are skilled and experienced, we consider the little things that make every lesson a success:

Location – where is your student based? Are there local tutors who provide the service your student needs? (Yes! We have tutors throughout Nepean and surrounding regions).

Age and experience – what year level is your student in, and what experiences would they most benefit from in a tutor?

Special considerations – does your student hate a certain subject? Or do they struggle with particular areas of school work, like reading? Can we find a tutor who is passionate and really experienced in those areas to motivate your student? (Yes, we can!)

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. – Albert Einstein

When a tutor and student – or mentor and mentee – sit together to work on anything, be it English or Geography, an exchange of knowledge, values and study ethic goes on. To have maximum potential, and make for a more engaging and memorable learning experience, there needs to be some degree of chemistry. We’ve all had those teachers who just aren’t interesting. Or that head teacher with years of experience who natters on at a level, speed and tone that their young students just do not relate to…

“Students shouldn’t be sharing these things,” the teacher said.
“What things?” A student asked.
“The things that if you have them, you want to share them. But if you share them, you don’t have them.”
The student looks confused. “What’s that?” She asks her teacher.
“It’s a secret!” The teacher replies.

Learning essays or Pythagoras’ theorem doesn’t have to be a riddle. It is the role of a personalised tutor to turn abstract theories into accessible content grounded in students’ real-world experiences. Otherwise, students are alienated by unnecessarily complex explanations. As Albert Eistein once said, ‘Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.’ Having a tutor who relates to a student’s experiences and individual personality makes all the difference.

Friends are the family you choose, and so are tutors!

A Differentiated Curriculum: Same Same…but Different?

Why tutoring can give students equal opportunities to learn

A differentiated curriculum is a learning program that, ideally, meets the academic needs and interests of every student. This means that all the teaching approaches outlined in the curriculum are flexible, so that the content being taught is digestible and refreshingly challenging for each individual child. In a class of twenty or thirty students, who will undoubtedly possess slightly different needs, interests and skills from each other, an effective differentiated program is a challenge for teachers to implement. Nonetheless, experienced teachers, including educators at the new NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA, formerly BOSTES), know that such an individualised curriculum is necessary if all students are to meet their full potential. Susan Winebrenner, an experienced education consultant of the Education Consulting Services in the US, has put forward a compelling argument for differentiated learning, “Equality means giving everyone equal opportunities to learn, not teaching everyone in exactly the same way.

Differentiated CurriculumNESA agrees, and differentiated programming of lessons is integrated within the current K-10 Syllabus Framework. The ability of proficient teachers to individualise and create greater flexibility in lesson plans is also a clear requirement of the NSW Proficient Teacher Evidence Guide (BOSTES, published June 2014), in which the first standard discussed is a knowledge of students and their diverse learning processes. For example, some students may be visual learners who prefer teacher demonstrations, and some students may be more autonomous when given a written list of instructions.

Unfortunately, efforts towards establishing curriculum differentiation in schools often falls short. Within NESA guidelines, such programming is a guide, rather than a requirement whose success can be evaluated by students and their families. In reality, curriculum differentiation may go little further than a few sentences in a school’s teaching/learning policy handbook, or informal extension programs where gifted students meet once or twice a term to work on self-guided projects. Not all schools offer the supported learning or acceleration programs that many students need. And what about HSC students in Year 11 and 12, whose teachers already have their hands full with weekly marking and feedback, and a strict limit on the length of time they can spend on one learning outcome?

Despite schools’ best intentions, classroom sizes and a lack of support materials can mean some students (whether they require additional learning help, would like to fill a few gaps in their knowledge, or are gifted students needing a challenge in class) simply do not receive an equal opportunity to learn.

So how can tutoring provide the flexible learning opportunities often lacking in many classrooms?

NESA recommends these following methods for differentiating students’ learning programs (Differentiated Programming, NSW Education Standards Authority, NSW Government, 2014):

  • tiered and levelled activities
  • interest centres
  • problem-solving and challenge-based learning opportunities
  • open-ended questioning
  • collaborative and individual learning
  • student choice
  • teacher/student dialogue around learning activities

Tutors, such as those on our team at Nepean Tutoring, are highly experienced in providing individualised, focused learning opportunities. In a tutoring setting, students have the opportunity to learn one-on-one, or in a small group. Programs are tailored to their own specific needs and are free from the distractions and competing requirements of other students in a large classroom. Furthermore, our tutors can fill those gaps in knowledge, support students to learn classroom content at their own pace, and find an approach that allows each student to be challenged and grow from their learning experience, without feeling overwhelmed. This facilitates student/tutor discussion and encourages learners to generate their own ideas and questions about content, an important learning process that leads lead to further investigation – that is, further learning. At all times, our tutors ensure students’ needs and interests are at the centre of learning opportunities.

While classroom learning often assumes that students are the same, the individual nature of tutoring recognises that this is a myth. Difference should be valued, and used as a means to help students grow.

NAPLAN and HSC Changes: Teaching the Skills Students need to Succeed

Read on for more information about how Nepean Tutoring can help your child to achieve a ‘world-class’ HSC credential.

You may have heard the news – for the first time in seventeen years, changes have been made to the NSW school curriculum. These changes require students to achieve a Band 8 or higher in their Year 9 NAPLAN results, to be eligible for attaining their Higher School Certificate (HSC) upon completing their Year 12 studies.

NAPLAN“The state’s 70,000 HSC students will have to achieve a pass mark in numeracy and literacy to be awarded the world class credential under the biggest overhaul of the end-of-school exam in 17 years…Education Minister Adrian Piccoli…said Year 9 students next year would be the first to be measured for the standard when they sit the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy tests.” (‘Tough new HSC rules to test 70,000 students’, The Daily Telegraph, July 19th 2016).

That means these changes will be relevant to students in Year 9 this year.

So what now?

The NAPLAN assesses students’ current skills in reading, writing and numeracy. These are foundational skills important to academic success throughout high school and tertiary schooling, as well as in the workplace, as the Education Minister reported to the ABC when introducing these new minimum standards, “So when you walk into a training provider or a university or an employer and you give them your HSC, they know that you’ve met a minimum literacy and numeracy standard.” (‘HSC revamp: New test to set minimum standard for literacy, numeracy in NSW’, ABC, July 19th 2016).

For modern-day students, these basic skills and the ability to adapt them to new information is critical in all aspects of life. However, in the school system with ever-growing class sizes, teachers may find themselves limited in the individual attention they can provide to children, who are often each at different stages in their learning process. According to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards respectively, according to 2016 NAPLAN results, ‘half of NSW students would fail the first HSC test’ and ‘about 24% of Year 9 students are at or below the national minimum standard for Reading and about 19% are at or below the standard for Numeracy.’ A view frequently taken is that these students simply ‘fall through the cracks’. At Nepean Tutoring, we do not believe that this is so.

A company founded on the basis of an inherent belief in the potential of NSW students, Nepean Tutoring provides one-on-one support for students that improves not only literacy and numeracy skills, but nurtures confidence that makes independent learners, who believe in their own ability to understand and apply their learning. With the pressure of exams like NAPLAN, this is just as important as knowing the content being assessed.

At Nepean Tutoring, our approach is a comprehensive one and our experienced tutors have themselves excelled in their fields of study. Our tutors offer students an opportunity to engage with class material outside of the distractions of the classroom, to learn at their own pace, and to identify and improve on their specific strengths and weaknesses, which can make all the difference in pushing their marks into the top NAPLAN (and later HSC) bands. As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports have showed in the past, tutoring can help struggling students catch up and advance those students already excelling. It is never too early to start, as a good grounding in literacy and numeracy skills puts students in good stead for NAPLAN and HSC success.

Contact us today for more information on how we can help your child to succeed, and build confidence in themselves as 21st century learners.

Tips if You’re Cramming for Exams

Don’t Cram; Cramming for exam is the study-mate of procrastination. It is what happens when you decide, the night before the exam, that you can make up for lost time. “All I need is coffee and I’ll stay up all night reading all of the text book and then I’ll be set for the exam.”

The problem is; it doesn’t work. First of all, sleep is essential. For everything. Even short term sleep deprivation has observable consequences for memory retention and recall. Thinking slows down, reasoning gets cloudy and your stress levels elevate. All of the research around sleep and memory report that people who are sleep deprived achieve poorer results on memory and skills tests. If you haven’t slept your brain can’t store facts, it can’t recall them, you have a reduced ability to reason and you feel stressed.

Second, you don’t learn by rereading the text book or your notes. We have all reached the bottom of a page and realized that not a single word has made it from your eyeball to your brain. This is because, apart from your fatigue (see above) you aren’t paying attention to the words. In you stressed state you are probably thinking about how many more pages there are, how many more hours you have, how many hours of sleep you’ll be missing and what people are going to think of you when you flunk chemistry. Your anxiety levels are making your brain unreceptive to any information that isn’t directly related to the stressors.

So, cramming for exam the night before doesn’t work. It can even make things worse. A good tutor can help with study planning skills, gaining confidence for learning and effective exam preparation.

exam-cramming

Avoid this last minute approach by avoiding procrastination.

Procrastination is a stress response; you avoid study because it feels stressful.  The reason that you will avoid hitting the books today, and every day, is because you think it is too hard. Just about ANYTHING seems easier than practicing algebra. Right? Naturally, you want to avoid something that is too hard or stressful.

The opinion that something is ‘too hard’ is based, not on the intrinsic difficulty of the task, but on the belief that you’re no match for it. Are these beliefs true? And is it actually too hard? Is it harder than staring at a mystifying exam paper? Harder than admitting to yourself that you have, actually, made life harder for yourself?

The problem with avoiding things is that they don’t go away. All the stress you avoided by not studying will present itself again, now significantly intensified, in the exam room. This heightened level of stress will encourage your rational brain to shut down and hand everything over to your emotional brain. Your emotional brain (While great for making friends and many other things) cannot help you with algebra or comprehension.

So, you’re constantly avoiding studying because it is hard, at least you think so, and then your brain can’t help you at all when that stress you’ve been avoiding comes back all at once. And, of course, when you’re exam doesn’t go very well you will site it as evidence that you’re not smart. You are smart – you just need to stop procrastinating. So, here are some tips for getting past your procrastination.

cramming-for-exam1, Have a plan. Break down your study into increments. Even if your plan simply involves writing a list of the things that you have to cover. You will feel organized, instead of stressed, and you will have jumped the ‘getting started’ hurdle.

2, Break it down; so, instead of telling yourself that “I’ll just play one game of Candy Crush then I’ll get started.” Try this instead: “OK, one hour of algebra then I can relax with Candy crush” By breaking your study into smaller units; hours or half hours, it will seem more achievable and you will be less inclined to avoid it.

3, Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to that doubting voice in your head that says “I’ll never understand it anyway” or “If I was smarter I wouldn’t need to study”. You will and you do. That voice is lying! You have a giant brain and it was built for learning. You are capable.

4, Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to know everything. You do have to know more than you did yesterday. If you got a C last time – let’s shoot for B next time. Don’t compare yourself to the person at the top of the class. The only person you’re competing is with the person you were yesterday.

5, Just do it! Keep your eye on the prize! Suck it up Princess! It’s annoying to hear but sometimes you just have to sit yourself down and make yourself do it. If you struggle with motivation – that’s completely normal. Consider getting a tutor who can help you with your motivation and confidence.

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We’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below if you have any you would like to add.