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An Educator’s Perspective: The impacts of high stakes testing on school students and their families

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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.