How to support student wellbeing during NAPLAN

By Rydr Tracy

Published 28 February 2024 16.56 PM

Are we still stressing about NAPLAN scores? 

When NAPLAN was introduced, much like the SAT and innumerable other standardised assessments around the world, there was optimism that the results could be used to help identify what worked and what didn’t. The underlying hypothesis was that if we know how students are faring then we can adjust our approach to meet their needs. What could go wrong?

Sadly, we quickly saw a shift, league tables were created, schools were ranked, resourcing was determined by performance. Education outcomes from standardised tests were equated to education funding. In short, instead of using the data to inform teaching, we used it for accountability, judgement and comparison and the tests became high stakes. This was great for those that faired well and less than great for others, another round of winners and losers. 

Unsurprisingly, the higher the stakes, the greater the stress for teachers and students. For people outside of teaching it became a dollar to outcome equation. “How come we are investing record amounts of money into education, and we are performing worse?” and other such unhelpful rhetoric.

As every educator will tell you, there is more to education than narrow academic assessment. Education is about equipping our young people with the skills they need to thrive in life. As such, defining success or failure through the narrow lens of NAPLAN performance is only looking at part of the picture. Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Perseverance was quoted as saying “The more I understand what testing is the more confused I am. What does the score mean? Is it how smart somebody is, or is it something else? How much of it is their recent coaching? How much of it is genuine skill and knowledge?”. (interview)

Unsurprisingly, this sentiment is shared by many teachers and school leaders, who now do everything they can to normalise NAPLAN and lower the stakes. For many schools, actively managing student stress and lowering the stakes has led to improved academic performance. Regardless of the impact on student outcomes, student wellbeing is now being considered and supported.

Is there stress in the real world? Absolutely.

Is there therefore a place for students to learn how to manage stress? Absolutely. 

So, what can we do to support our student wellbeing throughout the testing?


1. Provide a safe space to empower students to express their voice and share their feelings


2. Monitor student emotions leading up to NAPLAN


3. Use the knowledge you gain to inform how you adjust your environment, so students are ‘ready to learn’


4. Teach strategies to assist students regulate their emotions and manage stress
5. Monitor student wellbeing data on the days of assessment, preferably before and after assessments.
6. Support students at their point of need, immediately after NAPLAN is a critically important moment for students who are still forming a sense of self.  
7. Analyse the wellbeing data you collected with NAPLAN performance (when available)


8. Evaluate what worked best, and use this to inform classroom environments and strategies for next year.



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