Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Standardised tests narrow the curriculum

As I said last week, I’m doing a series of posts on standardised tests. I’m focusing on the Australian NAPLAN (National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy) which you can see more about, from the government, here. Some of their sample tests can be seen here. Their views on parent support can be found here.

One of the biggest problems is that standardised tests narrow the curriculum. There are several ways that the curriculum is narrowed by the use of standardised tests. As Klenowski and Wyatt-Smith (2012) argue, these tests often encourage teaching to the test because the use of authentic teaching tools would not help students to complete the test questions. They provide an example of a spelling question from the work of Willet and Gardner (2009):


Willett and Garnder’s sample of spelling errors in NAPLAN style tests
Leave out a letter Such as weel/wheel, frend/friend. Often used at the syllable disjuncture: prety/pretty, disapointed/disappointed
Add a letter Again, generally at the syllable disjuncture: consummed/consumed.
Use a different vowel combination Such as broun/brown, arownd/around
Substitute a letter Such as cumplained/complained, sinse/since
Reverse a letter sequence Such as muscel/muscle

Klenowski and Wyatt-Smith (2012, p. 74) argue that this type of question “contrasts with the authentic student spelling errors”, the result being that the testing both “encourage the teaching of test preparation rather than productive spelling knowledge and skills” and, in the end, create new errors. They state that “the misspelling of the first syllable (com) in complain as cumplain, is not an error that Year 3 students make, yet after exposure to the NAPLAN error students in their study used this misspelling when attempting to spell the word!” So, we’re making kids’ spelling worse by testing their spelling?


5 Responses to “Standardised tests narrow the curriculum”

    • Rebecca English

      Does it how!! I’m really against them. If my daughter goes to school, there’s no way she’s sitting the NAPLAN test in year 3.

      • sage_brush

        I sincerely hope you are able to home school your precious little one.

      • Rebecca English

        Thank you, I’m going to let her decide. I’d love it if she wanted that! To be part of her life like that would be such a gift.

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