Buying into NAPLAN Stress

Buying into NAPLAN Stress

According to Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, “Stuffed toys that help children deal with ‘difficult emotions’ are being spruiked as a means to ‘assist with the stress of NAPLAN.’”


As an aside, it does seem ironic that the PR firm pushing these toys is called Evil Twin.


Now, I understand that Year 12 students get stressed over HSC or VCE examinations. After all these are what they have been playing for since the Game of School began.


I understand Year 6 students getting stressed over a scholarship examination. After all, I’m sure they know just how lucky they are to even get the chance to sit for that test.


And – at a push – I can even understand Year 4 or 5 students getting stressed about being examined in order to gain access to the illustrious Opportunity Class. (Seriously… who comes up with these ideas?)


But a Year 3, 5, 7 or 9 student getting stressed over NAPLAN?




Let’s be clear. NAPLAN is not something students should be stressed about.


However, the way in which NAPLAN has been rolled out, and the use of the data it generates, means that NAPLAN is certainly something teachers and principals get stressed about.


What should be seen as a diagnostic test to gauge those kids who need extra help has been turned into a blunt instrument to judge teacher and whole-school performance.


Whether you agree NAPLAN should be used to measure school performance – and for the record I do believe it should play some part in a far more comprehensive analysis – the fact remains that a student’s results in NAPLAN, will have little bearing on their education. Certainly not in the same way their performances in their Opportunity Class, scholarship or Year 12 exams would have.


So why the stress?


One can only assume that it is the schools imparting this stress onto students and parents.


Anecdotally there have been stories in the past, of principals telling less-able students to stay at home on NAPLAN day, fearful of how the school’s results would be impacted by his or her attendance. And then of course there are the schools only admitting new students whose NAPLAN scores are deemed “good enough.”


Parents are simply following the lead from the schools.


Tutoring companies and NAPLAN study book publishers can’t believe their luck. One publishing company has sold 180,000 books already this year, whilst you’ll find School Zone NAPLAN-Style Workbook: Year 3 Numeracy at Number 9 on the Bestseller list courtesy of well-meaning parents.


Bookstores who may have been worried about their future a couple of years ago are now banking on NAPLAN hysteria seeing them through!


Meanwhile ACARA and government officials trot out the same old tired lines about NAPLAN being something you can’t prepare for.


Well people aren’t buying those words. They’re buying the words in NAPLAN books, and now it seems Good Luck toys.


So I ask again, why is it – do you think – that the kids are stressed?


Author: Dan Haesler, he is a teacher, consultant, and speaker at the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminars He writes for the Sydney Morning Herald and blogs at and tweets at @danhaesler

About the Author:


  1. lisontap May 13, 2013 at 10:01 am - Reply

    The first time I’ve ever seen anyone comment on the dubious concept of ‘Opportunity’ classes. Does it mean no one else in the grade is smart enough to deserve an opportunity?
    It’s not just Naplan and Opp class that I question. Kids at our local PS have to compete for everything. Choir and dance are by audition only. Only a few kids are picked for the footy team or the netball team or as school ‘leaders’. There are 120 kids in every grade so most kids do not really get to shine at anything (and they wonder why there is bullying). I know there are some beaut mental health programs starting up in schools now but I wonder at their effectiveness if run from within an education system that is in itself, rather crazy. Wished parents here had choices in state education like they do in some other countries. Has anyone heard of Montessori, Steiner or Democratic streams being offered in schools here?

  2. Dr Michael Nagel May 14, 2013 at 9:07 am - Reply

    As someone who researches in the area of human development and learning I find Dan’s comments to be eloquent, insightful and should be required reading for parents, teachers and policy makers alike. As a diagnostic tool these tests could be helpful, but they have morphed into something of little real value or use. Taking tests this week and then receiving feedback some months later serves no real educative purpose…taking tests and placing the results on the web does little more than feed the growing wallets of tutoring companies, consultants and the publishers noted by Dan. Parental anxiety over test results exacerbates student anxiety in performance and as such the cycle of stress continues. I am a firm believer that everything we do, to and with children, in schools should be based on the best available evidence and extensive educational research tells us that standardised tests do little more than stress children and adults alike and paradoxically actually lower standards.

  3. Hannah May 14, 2013 at 9:14 am - Reply

    I don’t think it’s fair to blame the schools, I agree with the above commenter that it seems to be the system and this obsession with performance. Funding is so tight for schools that one child under quota can mean the loss of a full time staff member. And with the NAPLAN results published on the My Schools website, parents who want the best for the kids are using that as a way of judging where to send their child. Management also often use NAPLAN results as a way of judging teacher performance or school sucess hence the stress for teachers.

    While they do say you can’t study for NAPLAN, a child’s anxiety can be reduced, and therefore performance enhanced by being familiar with the format of the exam. And teachers who may prefer a more organic and responsive style of teaching are forced to ensure certain topics are covered in enough detail before the assessment, rather than as students are ready.

  4. Janet May 14, 2013 at 9:24 am - Reply

    I have left the formal classroom after 20 years of teaching (and now do supply/relief) because if this kind of administrative pressure. The parents are nervous because their kids are worried, the kids are under pressure because the teachers are accountable and the principals have their performance results to justify. Who is putting the pressure on the principals, the inconsiderate, delusional leaders who invent this rubbish. What was wrong with our system before all this, there are enough pressures in society these days keeping up with technology. Many people go to their nearest school, why tarnish the school with a status, and cause more ‘second guessing’ from parents toward their teachers who Re already giving a large part of their life to educate our children.

    • Janet May 14, 2013 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Sorry about all the typo’s, I was a bit fired up and emotional…. Noone performs well in this state of stress!

  5. Karen Harris May 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Most parents don’t realise the NAPLAN is not compulsory. My son won’t be sitting NAPLAN this week as I moved him to a democratic school, but any parent can sign a form to withhold their child for reasons pertaining to that child or just on principle. We should have a mass boycott of the test!

  6. Sarai May 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    I had three children undertaking Naplan testing today and read your article with joy. Two of my children are dyslexic and the language conventions test is something akin to torture for them and many like them. A teacher myself, I have put a lot of time into encouraging my children to believe that Naplan is really assessing how well their school is functioning and that their results will have no impact on their lives at all. I have particularly emphasised that I will not be upset,disappointed or even over joyed no matter what their Naplan results tell me months from now. Still my perfectionist eight year old, who I have no doubt will rank above the state avaerage on all his tests, still went to school this morning feeling sick with aprehension becuase his well meaning teacher has made such a big deal of the “preparation for Naplan” process. What a thing to do to a child.

Leave a Reply