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Preparing for NAPLAN

Jennifer Buckingham | 29 April 2011

In around two weeks, each school student in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 across Australia will sit the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests. The four tests over three days begin with language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and writing, followed by reading and numeracy.

My eldest child, who is in Year 3, will take the tests for the first time this year. My daughter’s school takes these tests very seriously. They have been preparing students for a good proportion of the first term.

Although my own area of interest is reading, I am more familiar with the numeracy test, simply because numeracy is where my daughter is weaker. To my mind, the tests are a fair representation of my daughter’s mathematical prowess at this time. Just by doing practice tests together, I have been able to see the gaps in her skills and knowledge.

Two things have become apparent. First, my daughter’s performance in the test will be impeded because she does not know the times tables well. I share responsibility for this because I was already aware of it. We made a few half-hearted attempts to work on this at home, but it was tedious for both of us and I did not persevere.

However, it has become glaringly obvious that knowing single digit multiples is critical. And I mean really knowing them, not just knowing the concept of multiplication and that if you spend enough time drawing circles with dots in them, you can eventually work out the answer.

I cannot say whether this is true for many schools, but I have seen little evidence of memorisation in my daughter’s maths instruction, and there is no other way to permanently instil this knowledge and provide automatic recall. Language and social studies are not the only areas of schooling that have been adversely affected by constructivism.

Second, the numeracy is a test of mathematical literacy, not mathematical aptitude. All the questions are problem-based. This example from the 2010 Year 3 numeracy test paper shows that it is almost impossible to do well if you are not competent in reading and comprehending written language.

These biscuits are sold in packets of 10. Shelley wants to give one biscuit to each of her 27 classmates. What is the least number of packets that Shelley needs? (©ACARA 2010)

Fortunately, my daughter is literate and able to understand this question, so the test will assess her ability to solve the problem using mathematics. Other children will not be in the same situation.

Jennifer Buckingham is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.