Every year NAPLAN tests come under the microscope and last year the media was awash with allegations of teachers cheatingparents refusing to allow their kids to take the test, and principals selecting new enrolments based on NAPLAN scores. 

With stories like this it’s not surprising that anyone who wanted to condemn NAPLAN got their obligatory 3 minute soundbite onto Morning TV. Bold statements like “NAPLAN harms our kids for life” at breakfast time, make for essential viewing for the mums and dads of every 8 – 14 year old in the country!

Yet a recent publication from the Whitlam Institute suggested things might not be quite as bad as they seem… It stated:

“With respect to student wellbeing, the number and range of studies dealing with this issue directly are more limited. The authors of this report were not able to find any scientific evidence relating to the impact of high stakes testing on the well-being of children in the Australian context, although some examples of case studies occur in Athanasou (2010) and there are instances of anecdotal evidence which have been reported in the media. These include claims of stress, bedwetting and anxiety disorders arising from the stress associated with high stakes testing (O’Keeffe, 2011), as well as claims of suicides related to the impact of the Higher School Certificate in NSW (Snow 2006).”

 I’m not writing this as an advocate for standardised testing – although I do believe it has its place in education (just not in the manner that the government or media would have us believe).

Rather I’m concerned that the report states there has been little in the way of research in this area, and as such we can only rely on anecdotal evidence and our own common-sense – that suggests in its current form standardised testing seems to be a source of stress and anxiety in our school communities.

This is a concern as standardised testing is front and centre in the government’s vision of education reform and will continue to be used to compare schools’ results on a local and international scale.

Whilst we might tolerate government’s lack of academic acumen in this regard, we need to ensure that it does not come at the expense of our students’ wellbeing.

I’m calling on researchers to begin looking seriously into the impact that standardised testing does have on the wellbeing of students and their teachers.

Author: Dan Haesler, he is a teacher, writer and speaker at the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminar at the Gold Coast. He writes for the Sydney Morning Herald and blogs at http://danhaesler.com/ and tweets at @danhaesler