Decade of NAPLAN ‘pointless’ without improved learning

LAST week seven year old Richard got dressed, ate breakfast cleaned his teeth and put on his shoes in less than six minutes.

Up early, he was in a rush to start another “at home” play day.

But with the holidays over, as the morning school bell looms, Richard is still in his pyjamas.

“Hurry up or you’ll be late for school,” his mother yells for the sixth time.

“C’mon mate, hurry up,” his frustrated father echoes.

At the end of school holidays most seven year olds are excited about returning to school and seeing friends.

But not Richard.

“His teacher is very nice and always seems very concerned,” says Richard’s mother.

“She makes a lot of promises and says she will do things to help, but never does.

“With 20 other kids in the class, there’s no time for Richard’s special needs.”

Under the care of a psychologist, Richard has been tested and ranked as an exceptionally gifted child with an IQ beyond 140+.

Additional testing shows Richard is “twice exceptional”, meaning he also has a learning difficulty.

Hypermobile, he has poor muscle control in his hands, making handwriting difficult, among other things.

Like most gifted children, Richard is a perfectionist and if he cannot do something after a couple of attempts, like write perfectly, he does not want to do it at all.

“School is boring,” mutters Richard.

He is frustrated others in his class read simple books and want to play trucks in the sand or have sword fights.

Richard would rather read about rock formations or chat about the plight of polar bears.

Colouring and pasting activities in class makes Richard feel frustrated and remote.

Although accelerated from a Year Two class to Year Three/ Four, Richard finds reading and numeracy exercises so easy they irritate him.

Disengaged during most lessons, when Richard is scalded for not listening, he runs out of the classroom and hides around the yard.

Academically he is 11 or 12 years old, but emotionally he is six or seven.

Seen as a social misfit by peers, they bully, tease and ridicule him.

Yet if Richard displayed giftedness in music, football or another sport he would be deemed a hero, praised by teachers and peers and offered specialist coaching.

School is a lonely, cruel place for academically gifted children like Richard.

Many people, including some teachers, view giftedness as elitist.

They have no comprehension of how gifted children actually think and process information differently to others.

Children like Richard are often ignored with their capabilities crushed and pulled down to “average”.

Despite the rhetoric 10 years ago, a decade of NAPLAN testing has not assisted gifted children or improved general academic achievement for most students.

“NAPLAN tests show no improvement at most year levels in most of the country,” according to Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) chief executive Geoff Masters.

He says people learn best when given opportunities “at an appropriate level of challenge: beyond their comfort zone, but not so far beyond they become frustrated and give up”.

Mr Masters believes currently the curriculum for each year level “is either well within their comfort zone or so far ahead of them they are unable to engage with it meaningfully”.

At an estimated cost of $50m annually, NAPLAN testing starts in a fortnight.

Richard will sit the test as a Year 3 student.

But such testing is pointless until results are used to improve classroom learning for all children.