NAPLAN tops most stressful school list among students
Exclusive: NAPLAN testing and homework load have beaten out friendship pressures, difficult school work and liking the teacher as the most nerve-racking things about school for nearly one in three students.
New research from online tutoring agency Cluey Learning, which surveyed primary and secondary students across Australia, says NAPLAN tests rate highly in terms of school stresses with nearly 30 per cent of students surveyed saying it is the most stressful experience they have had yet at school.
Homework load was the highest driver of anxiety with 31 per cent of students nominating it as their top cause of stress closely followed by tests like NAPLAN (26 per cent) then challenging classwork (20 per cent), getting along with friends (15 per cent) and getting on with the teacher (nine per cent).
NAPLAN was also named by the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) as one of the factors behind a rise in stressed school students in a recent report which found 80 per cent of leaders see anxiety as a significant issue within their schools and 60 per cent said they had insufficient resources to deal with the issue.
The APPA report found NAPLAN is particularly an issue in Year 3, with some children unable to deal with the pressures and also nominated performance anxiety around NAPLAN. Psychologist Michael Hawton said there was an emerging trend of rising anxiety levels in primary school students.
"It would appear teachers and parents are not sure exactly how to handle it," he said.
"Usually stress shows itself when it accumulates to a point where their learning ability and function is affected."
The Cluey Learning national survey found students believe the NAPLAN stress is largely driven from teachers with almost 60 per cent of pupils agreeing their teachers are stressed or worried about the national exams that test literacy and numeracy.
At home, more than 50 per cent of parents purposely avoid mentioning NAPLAN during the lead up and more than one in three parents are considering pulling their child out of NAPLAN.
Malcolm Elliott, President of the APPA, said he was not surprised to learn school was the source of NAPLAN stress.
"NAPLAN has unfortunately quickly become a high stakes test. Teachers' worth and schools' worth are pinned to the NAPLAN data and that creates tremendous pressure," he said, adding the varied approaches by different schools to NAPLAN only made it more complex.
One Sydney mother, who asked not to be named, told News Corp Australia her daughter's school devoted entire terms to preparing for NAPLAN.
"They don't do any curriculum work and have to catch up it after NAPLAN. They get tested every day from the first day of school until the NAPLAN tests," she said.
Cluey Learning chief learning officer Dr Selina Samuels said the research also showed a deep rural and metropolitan divide with only 55 per cent of regional students saying they received NAPLAN preparation compared to 71 per cent of city students.
"They seem to feel this is something that they can't talk about which I think is the most worrying," she said of the findings.
The study found 70 per cent of students talk about NAPLAN with their classmates rather than parents or teachers and Melbourne mother Roza Stankovska said prior to talking to News Corp Australia she believed her Year 9 son Gabriel was not stressed about NAPLAN.
"I then spoke to my son and I didn't even know that he apparently was stressing. He was worrying about how he would be perceived if the grades weren't good," she said.
In Brisbane, Irene Tian, the mother of Year 7 student Brighten, said her family had recently immigrated and found the homework load and NAPLAN testing less rigorous than her hometown of China.
"It is a very basic thing. In Shanghai we had many, many homework and lots of examinations," she said.
"In Australia is quite good, it is not so stressful."
Mr Elliott said NAPLAN was one of the few visible tools parents and educators have with which to judge schools - which only increased the pressure.
He added Year 3 students were really too young to handle the pressure cooker that NAPLAN has become.
Sydney based Year 7 student Talia Pajmakoski agreed, saying she felt stressed by her Year 3 NAPLAN tests as she did not understand what they were used for, and felt like she would be compared to her friends.
"Now I don't feel it as much but when I was younger I felt a lot of peer pressure everyone would tell each other what they had," she said.
Sarah Brown, Adelaide mum of daughter Remi, 8, agreed saying she felt Year 3 was too young.
"I don't mind NAPLAN, it reflects more on the school and where they can improve," she said.
"But I think it is a bit young, maybe next year when they have more of an understanding and independence would be better."
Educators said the lack of explanation around why kids are asked to sit NAPLAN and, similarly, what role homework plays only added to the pressure.
"I don't believe there is a very clear idea in the community as to what NAPLAN information has been used for so kids don't understand, and teachers know what it is for but don't know what they are going to do with it," Dr Samuels said.
"I have also heard from many students a frustration with the lack of feedback they routinely receive on the homework they complete. It is difficult to apply yourself fully to a task if you are not sure whether it will 'count'," she said.
"The quantity of homework is made more overwhelming because they may not be clear about how to chunk tasks into manageable pieces and allocate time accordingly."
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