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Testing Times!

"Not everything that can be counted, counts, and not everything that counts can be counted" 
(William Bruce Cameron)

I don't know who William Bruce Cameron is (I obviously had a poor education!), but he sounds like a smart guy. What an full-on week we are having here (like all the others aren't - LOL). We are undertaking (having spent $36.50 per child for the privilege) NAPLAN testing.

NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (someone probably got paid to come up with that acronym). Before 2008, Australia did not have national literacy and numeracy testing - there was some state exams, but nothing across this big, wide land of ours. But a few years ago, the Federal government decided that we needed something to assess how our students were going and they came up with NAPLAN - and every year students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 sit standardised tests in Language Conventions (Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation), Writing, Reading, and Numeracy.

NAP Logo

I think Australia is relatively unique in that the testing seems to focus more on "skills" rather than knowledge or curriculum (probably a good idea given each State has it's own curriculum). Think of it as basic skills testing.

So here we are in 2012. Both kids at home in Year 7. We can easily opt out of the exams as homeschoolers and indeed have to pay if we want them to sit them. I was in two minds about the whole business. I'm pretty sure they will do well and we are on track. Do we really need external exams to tell us that? Writing continues to be an issue, but now we know why and I will continue to support that area of learning need. However, I kind of like finishing what I start and they have the first two under their belt (done at school) and I thought we might like to do the others. Plus, if they do OK, I can justify that our homeschool program (such that it is) is "working". I'm the one that needs de-schooling, I know!

The kids, weirdly enough, actually enjoyed doing the exams at school ("Wish school was that interesting" - Video Boy) (except the Writing exams). I discovered they did not have to go and sit in the back of some school hall with hundreds of uniformed kids and we could do them at home a week after the schooled kids (guess they don't trust us not to blab about what's in them - what if they told us???). So we agreed to give them a shot at home. I utilised Time Timer apps on the iPhone/iPad to help them keep a visual track of time (not their strong point!), but basically we followed the rules/setup up school (except school doesn't have HEA 1300 phone enquiries ringing and dogs barking....but anyway).

Video Boy's slow processing speed was quite apparent in the Maths testing...
although he got most of the questions correct

I think Video Boy is better able to focus on his medication. He gave the Writing task a great effort (with his usual humorous writing style) and no tears (I was worried at the start, however he regrouped and got on with it). If we do the Year 9 ones, I think I will apply for special provisions for him now we have a diagnosis (a bit of extra time to compensate for slow processing/low working memory).

I have no issue with the NAPLAN tests in general being used for student assessment - what are their strengths and weaknesses and how do they compare with other kids their age (although as homeschoolers/natural learners this issue is of less importance). I do feel as if they have a very low "ceiling" and don't tell you a lot about gifted kids - if you get over a certain score they tell you "your child is achieving beyond what we would expect for this age". They are designed to "catch" the kids performing below the minimum benchmark. Although I have found that nothing necessarily happens for them in schools if they are (eg: Video Boy's writing).

The major issue many parents and teachers have with NAPLAN results is they are being used to rank schools on the MySchool website (like league tables), and will be used to fund schools and give teachers bonus pay for improving student results. In this situation, what happens is schools start to teach to the test and focus on scores, not skills (and certainly not student interests or the joy of learning!). The fear is that the government further turns education into economics and seeks "return on investment". Again, these issues are of little relevance when we are homeschooling (it's not like they pay me to educate my kids or anything).

For us as homeschoolers, I am kind of hoping we haven't dropped way below where they were in school (I seriously doubt it, but my self-doubt creeps in). We haven't been "coaching" - although we did do some practice writing last week in our area of weakness, just so they were familiar with the format and could build up some confidence in that area (not sure if that evil plan worked, however). The other testing areas I left it in the lap of the gods.

Wombat Girl sees the complexity in everything -
 "would a year be a leap year? - there's a one in four chance of it being a leap year"

We are also taking part in the ICAS (International Competitions and Assessments for Schools) exams in Computer Skills, Science, Maths, English, Spelling and for Wombat Girl only, Writing (there was no way Video Boy was keen to participate in that!). These are optional exams that the kids sat in school (and I sat back in the day too - I still have my certificates!). They enjoyed these (as opposed to say, swimming and sports carnivals) as a chance to excel in their areas of strength. Both kids got quite a few High Distinction (top 1%) and Distinction (next 10%) certificates. We weren't very organised this time last year, but we are doing them this year. I'll let you know how they get on.

As homeschoolers, both of these exams are an opportunity to "shine" - to say "I have strengths in these areas and I'm proud of them", particularly for kids that aren't particularly sporty and don't receive trophies or certificates for that. They also get to practice exam conditions (just in case they ever make it to university). The kids both know (because I told them) that I will love them unconditionally no matter what the score. And we know that learning and education is about so much more than scores on a test. After this week is over we will go back to doing what we the words of Get Smart "...and loving it!".

What do you think? If you are homeschoolers, do you sit external exams? Do you have an option? If it were optional, would you opt out?

PS: except after this week I'll be going on a little holiday away from the kids and Hubby...he is going to be Mr Mom and Homeschool Dad while I go to Sydney and....mark NAPLAN!!! I'll be marking the Writing papers (oh the irony!) for nearly $50 an hour! A money-making opportunity to good to miss. I will take my laptop with me - so I won't disappear off your screens for 4 weeks. I'm going to miss my family - but not their washing!


  1. I've thought about it, and my graduated girl now tells me it would be a good experience to do. I even rang up this year and nearly booked in and then didn't bother.
    btw Wombat's literalism/logic, I soo get that I live with those sorts of questions all the time!

    1. It is not too late to enter the ICAS exams - you pay for them online. The kids enjoy them. Good to know I'm not the only one putting up with those sorts of questions!

  2. Here in the U.S., every state is different. My home state requires either standardized testing OR an in-person evaluation at grades 3, 5, 7, and 9. I am torn which to do.... And frankly sort of hope that by the time 3rd grade rolls around, we have chosen to live in a state with no rules at all.

    1. Was wondering where your comment went - it got spam-boxed! How rude! No rules sounds pretty enticing....

  3. Was going to do it but ran out of funds to make the payment. I was told though that I can do it for free online after the event to get a guide as to how the munchkins would have done.

    It is Ironic that you get to go and mark them, after paying to get your kids to do it.

    1. That's a good idea, Bec. Yes, the irony has not escaped me! It is a very interesting process - I will blog about it in more detail as I do more work.


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