NAPLAN and a holistic education – two sides of the same coin

Posted on August 25, 2016

It’s often said that you measure what you value, and you value what you measure.  It’s this assertion that drives much of the discussion around education in Australia.  Media headlines bemoan Australia’s supposed ‘falling standards’ and politicians demand we ‘get back to basics’.

Back in 2001 the then Federal government introduced the standardised test called NAPLAN, aimed at measuring a student’s performance (not ability) at a given point in time. When first rolled out, the tool provided useful reports to parents.  It indicated how their child was performing against national benchmarks. It also provided schools very helpful feedback about how their teaching programs were working.

While NAPLAN is still a very useful tool, the introduction of the MySchool website has compromised its usefulness. It now pits school against school and teacher against teacher. Under the disguise of accountability and a desire to force a better performance of our education system we are seeing a systematic narrowing of what education should be all about.

Many schools (not St Paul’s School), spend more and more time teaching to the test and ignoring other critical education elements. I frequently hear of instances where schools ask some students to ‘miss’ the test in an attempt to manipulate their overall results. Perhaps we really do value what we measure.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that what NAPLAN measures is not important.  Children need to be able to read, write and add up.  However, it isn’t a question of literacy and numeracy vs a more holistic education.  This is a false dichotomy. Rather, we need a holistic education: one that prepares balanced citizens AND who perform to their academic potential. At St Paul’s we call this, an education worth having: one that builds balanced, resilient, agile global citizens, with an entrepreneurial mindset, innovative spirit and a heart for servant leadership.

With this in mind, I am proud to report that our NAPLAN results continue to be strong. This is a reflection of the value we place on excellent teaching and learning for all children. The following ‘spider graphs’ for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 show that in all areas St Paul’s School performs better than the State and National average, and in many areas, far better.


A number of years ago our reading scores were above average, but not hugely so. The results at that time showed that comprehension was letting us down and so we adjusted the programs and as a result this area is now well above the national average.

Year 7 writing NAPLAN This year writing is our weakest area. When we examined the data we found that it is paragraphing skills that are letting this area down (see left). This could well be due to pressure under examination conditions when children often feel pressured to write as much as possible.

This does help us assess our programs and adjust them accordingly.  But parents can also support children in this area by reminding them to create a new paragraph each time they begin writing about a new point or idea.

This is the true benefit of NAPLAN.  This is how it is meant to be used.

NAPLAN should not be a leader board or a competitive evaluation device. Like many things in life, NAPLAN is most useful when it is used as it was meant to be: something that measures progress, not defining what we value.

So, can you measure and report on every aspect of a holistic education?  Sadly, no. But should this stop you from providing this holistic education? Definitely not.

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