Meaningful Assessment is Personalised not Standardised

We are continually affronted by the pressure on teachers and schools to perform in the NAPLAN test - responding to government and community pressure that the NAPLAN provides an informative and meaningful representation of students and schools.  We work in schools across the country from elite private schools to remote indigenous communities in Arnhem Land and we hear over and over these types of comments.

  • We lost 3 weeks of our normal teaching and learning while we taught to the test
  • Our school gives the students a practice NAPLAN test every morning
  • We review the NAPLAN result of any student wanting to come to our school

In a recent conversation with a principal about the role and meaningfulness of NAPLAN - the response went something like this ... I disagree with you about NAPLAN, we are an education institution and we have a responsibility to educate children .... And this is the vexed question!  Of course we have a responsibility to educate children - but what is education and what is a meaningful assessment of this education?  Meaningful assessment cannot be understood before there is a common understanding of education itself.

If we think the education of children is about being able to rote learn, to be competent in numeracy and literacy and nothing else ...... and then to be compared to every other child across the country then NAPLAN is the way to go. If we think of education as the development of the skills required for our children to become successful in life (including numeracy and literacy) then NAPLAN fails dismally as an assessment tool.

Meaningful assessment starts with teachers reflecting upon the following question:  What do I know about this child in relation to where:

  • were they
  • are they now
  • are they headed?

Meaningful assessment:

  • is less about where they are in relation to everyone else and more about their own individual rate of learning.
  • informs what the teacher will do next to facilitate further learning - meaningful assessment informs planning
  • is individualized not standardised
  • includes self assessment and self reflection by the child
  • includes parent input and perspective
  • promotes intentional teaching and learning
  • seeks to move each child onto their next level of understanding or skill acquisition rather than a predetermined collective outcome or benchmark
  • is NOT testing once or twice a year - but a range of ongoing observations and goal setting
  • empowers children to recognize what there are working towards rather than what they cannot do!
  • does NOT attempt to categorise learning into A, B, C, D
  • is a complex multidimensional process which includes the context of personality, maturity, family life, prior experiences, and behaviours which all contribute to student learning.

Shona Bass and Kathy Walker