The Experience of Education: The impacts of high stakes testing on school students and their families

(19 April, 2014, 7:30pm) NEW REPORT: The results are in and it's time to find a NAPLAN alternative 

NAPLAN has taken on a life of its own and is no longer in the best interest of young Australians, according to the latest report commissioned by the Whitlam Institute.

The report, The Experience of Education: the impacts of high stakes testing on school students and their families: A Qualitative Study was undertaken for the Whitlam Institute by Professor Johanna Wyn and her colleagues at the Youth Research Centre at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne.

The Experience of Education May 2014 report icon


For interviews please contact:
Lyndal Howison, Communications Manager, Whitlam Institute: 0404 854 033, 02 9685 9072 or

Lyn Danninger, Media Officer, University of Western Sydney, 0414 308 701, 02 9678 7589 or




Study probes parents' view on NAPLAN

27 November, 2013

NAPLAN Parents report icon 


Attitudes about the impacts of 'high-stakes testing' such as NAPLAN are perhaps more nuanced than first thought, a new survey of parents has found.

This survey of parents, commissioned by the Whitlam Institute within the University of Western Sydney and conducted by Newspoll in the period 24 May to 9 June this year, asked parents their perceptions of the impact of NAPLAN on their children. It is the latest in a series of reports from the Whitlam Institute on the impact of 'high stakes' testing.

In the study - The impacts of high stakes testing on schools, students and their families: Parental Attitudes and Perceptions Concerning NAPLAN - parents reported attitudes to NAPLAN such as:

*    56% of parents are in favour of NAPLAN, 34% against it and 10% are uncommitted in their views
*    Approximately 70% of parents find information about their child's NAPLAN results to be useful
*    There is an apparent gender split, with 41% of mothers against NAPLAN compared with 27% of fathers
*    One in two parents do not perceive NAPLAN to have any impact on their child's self-esteem. Of the balance, 23% believe it has a positive impact, and 23% feel it has a negative impact
*    40% of parents report that the last time their child undertook NAPLAN testing, their child exhibited some sign of stress or anxiety as a result of NAPLAN.
*    17% of parents claim to have visited the MySchool website in the past 12 months in order to compare the NAPLAN results of their child's school with others

This important piece of new research throws further light on both attitudes towards and the implications of NAPLAN on school students. The research to date in this project raises questions on several broader issues as to the direction being taken in Australian schooling.

This research follows the University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education's major research study commissioned by the Whitlam Institute in 2012 which surveyed over 8,300 teachers from every state and territory. That 2012 report found that educators reported that NAPLAN is having a negative impact on student wellbeing. Almost ninety percent of teachers talked about students feeling stressed prior to NAPLAN testing, and significant numbers also reported students being sick, crying or having sleepless nights. 72% of teachers felt negative about NAPLAN.

"The picture may be complex but it is gradually becoming clearer. We have been conscious that the introduction of national standardised testing in Australian schools in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in the form of NAPLAN is a significant educational reform. It is having impacts in many ways on schools and teaching and as we have suggested previously NAPLAN has become a high-stakes testing regime certainly to the extent that it is bearing a weight much greater than would or should be expected of what is said to be a simple tool for diagnostic purposes.

Parents it would appear might be favourably inclined but not overwhelmingly so and not without a degree of concern," said Eric Sidoti, Director of the Whitlam Institute.


Senate Inquiry: Our Submission [June 5, 2013]

Following on from our research into the impacts of high stakes testing on students and their families, the Whitlam Institute and our partners at the University of Melbourne have made a submission to the Inquiry into 'The Effectiveness of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).'

In brief, we note the strong concerns we have for the high stakes nature of the NAPLAN testing regime. While literacy and numeracy skills are fundamental and build a strong foundation for further learning, we believe that educational reform should place an emphasis on fostering much broader learning goals and outcomes.

In total there were 85 submissions into the Inquiry. To read other submissions into the Inquiry please see:

Senate Submission icon 




High Stakes Testing


The Whitlam Institute, along with our project partners, the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and the Foundation for Young Australians has embarked on a significant, longer-term research project which examines the impacts of high stakes testing (such as NAPLAN) on school students and their families.


Seeking the view of educators, the findings in our latest report - The Impacts of High Stakes Testing on Schools, Students and their Families: An Educator's Perspective [November 2012]- are consistent with research conducted in the USA and the UK, bringing to light the impacts NAPLAN is having on the Australian curriculum, pedagogy, staff morale, a school's capacity to attract and retain students and more importantly student's health and well-being.


Completed by our partners at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education who conducted a national survey of over 8,300 teachers at the time of the NAPLAN testing in mid-May, the report provides an insight into the experiences of teachers and principals with respect to the impact NAPLAN testing is having on their students and the curriculum at their schools. In the study teachers reported unintended NAPLAN consequences that included:


-    narrowing of teaching strategies and of the curriculum
-    negative impacts on student health and wellbeing
-    negative impacts on staff morale, and
-    negative impacts on school reputation and capacity to attract and retain students and staff.


Lead researcher Nicky Dulfer said NAPLAN is limiting children's exposure to non-tested areas: "We are narrowing the curriculum in order to test children," she said. "Our findings show concerns NAPLAN might be leading to more 'teaching to the test' are justified."


Over half of teachers surveyed reported that NAPLAN impacts the style and content of their teaching, with just over two thirds reporting it has led to a timetable reduction for other subjects in their schools. Roughly two thirds also reported a reduction in 'face-to-face' teaching time.


Educators also reported that NAPLAN is having a negative impact on student well-being. Almost ninety percent of teachers reported students talking about feeling stressed prior to NAPLAN testing, and significant numbers also reported students being sick, crying or having sleepless nights.


This report challenges us to reconsider this testing regime within the broader context of the purposes of education, and importantly, through the lens of the educator.

First Report: Review of existing International & Australian research


High Stakes Testing Literature Review 

The Whitlam Institute commissioned a literature review in January 2012 to provide the necessary context for the project and to assist in the development of the related quantitative research instruments. That review found that in Australia there has been little debate, and a lack of research on the fundamental question of what the impact NAPLAN might have on the wellbeing of students and their families. Turning to the international research, it also established a consistent picture of serious concerns about the impact high-stakes testing regimes are having on student health and well-being, learning, teaching and the curriculum.


The context of the project


In 2008 the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was established requiring primary and secondary students to sit standardised examinations every two years from Year 3 to Year 9. The NAPLAN testing and its reporting, including via the MySchool website, has generated a great deal of debate about its efficacy and legitimacy as a measure of comparative school standards and arguments about the confidence that can be placed in the tests themselves. However, there has been little debate, and a lack of research, on the more fundamental question of the impact the high stakes testing regime might have on the well-being of students and their family circumstances. As high stakes testing becomes more deeply embedded in the educational landscape it is important that questions such as these be interrogated as a basis for better informed policy making.
This project seeks to examine these questions concerning the high stakes testing regime within the context of the purposes of education, and the best interests of the children, as they are defined in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational  Goals for Young Australians and relevant policy commitments.

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