NAPLAN narratives: literacy teachers' perceptions of the impact of testing in schools

2017-02-21T02:42:09Z (GMT) by Nettleship, Sally
The National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)'s impact on education is extensive but not yet well understood. Using a narrative inquiry approach, this study explored how teachers responsible for preparing students for the NAPLAN think about the NAPLAN literacy test and how they use NAPLAN literacy data. In narrative inquiry, the researcher enters "the midst" of participants' worlds and explores their stories of experience, seeking to uncover the stories "lived and told" (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 20). The researcher is then able to retell these stories in the form of narratives written according to their interpretation of the themes. The study was located in a government secondary school; the principal and three English teachers were interviewed. The teachers were invited to construct a memory box of their professional experience which was 'unpacked' in interviews. In this way, I gained insights and access to the 'hidden' stories of what the teachers considered important in their teaching of English. My research questions were formed to explore the way NAPLAN was influencing teachers' professional lives and, more broadly, to understand the impact of standardised testing (NAPLAN) in schools. I then constructed themed narratives in response to memory box and interview data, incorporating the teachers' perceptions of literacy, standardise~ testing and NAPLAN. This study confirmed the view that the teachers and the principal considered NAPLAN a high stakes test. NAPLAN's presence in the school created a culture of 'teaching to the test' which affected school curriculum choices. NAPLAN was perceived to be establishing an educational discourse of accountability, at odds with some of the teachers' conceptions of literacy. It resulted in the teachers adopting classroom behaviours inconsistent with their privately held beliefs. Similarly NAPLAN promoted a culture of test performance which valued isolated literacy skills demonstrated on externally generated, quantitative standardised assessment over a literacy culture which valued individualism, creativity, student-teacher relationships and context. In this study, stress on staff and students was observed as a result of the cultural shift towards high stakes testing. While this study represents only a snapshot of teachers' perspectives, it seems timely for educators and the community to consider the kind of literacy culture it might be desirable to promote in schools and whether NAPLAN in its current form contributes to that culture or, perhaps, undermines it.