NAPLAN leading to a ‘teach to test’ culture: major study

NAPLAN is having the unintended side-effect of narrowing teaching strategies and the curriculum, according to the first national study into its impact. 

Researchers from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education (opens in a new window) surveyed over 8,300 teachers from every state and territory for a study commissioned by the Whitlam Institute (opens in a new window) within the University of Western Sydney. 

In the study - The impacts of high stakes testing on schools, students and their families: An Educator’s Perspective (opens in a new window) - teachers reported unintended NAPLAN consequences that included:
  • narrowing of teaching strategies and of the curriculum 
  • negative impacts on staff morale, and
  • negative impacts on school reputation and capacity to attract and retain students and staff.  

Over half of teachers surveyed reported that NAPLAN impacts the style and content of their teaching, with just over two thirds reporting it has led to a timetable reduction for other subjects in their schools. Roughly two thirds also reported a reduction in ‘face-to-face’ teaching time. 

Lead researcher Nicky Dulfer (opens in a new window) says NAPLAN is limiting children’s exposure to non-tested areas.

“We are narrowing the curriculum in order to test children,” she says. “Our findings show concerns NAPLAN might be leading to more ‘teaching to the test’ are justified.”

Educators also reported that NAPLAN is having a negative impact on student wellbeing. Almost ninety percent of teachers reported students talking about feeling stressed prior to NAPLAN testing, and significant numbers also reported students being sick, crying or having sleepless nights. 

Australia needs a national debate about alleviating NAPLAN’s negative effects, says Ms Dulfer. 

“There are ways we can support numeracy and literacy learning without limiting children’s access to other subjects like music, languages and art,” she says. 

Eric Sidoti, Director of the Whitlam Institute (opens in a new window) says the report is challenging and demands attention. 

“The report suggests the NAPLAN testing regime is plagued by unintended consequences well beyond its stated intent: it does represent a shift to ‘high stakes’ testing,” he says. “For the Whitlam Institute, it raises the larger question of the purposes of education.”