LOUISA GUNNING. Why we shouldn’t blame the students.

In the past year or so, I have been made painfully aware of poor NAPLAN results among high school students as a student who just finished my last NAPLAN exam last year. Many of the articles I have seen seem to have a common thread: ‘Students have stopped trying’. And to be frank, I can tell you that we have no reason or time to care, not among our preoccupation with countless other assessments. 

What people fail to take into account when they consider the drop in NAPLAN results from primary school to high school and the consequent rise of HSC results, is the time invested into the NAPLAN exams. When I was still in primary school, we would spend weeks leading up to NAPLAN exams practising the exact format NAPLAN expected, but there is no time to cater to NAPLAN’s specific expectations in high school. We are too busy with a huge load of assessments, and while some students flourish under this weight, many struggle. 

This struggle can be seen in the rise of mental health issues among teenagers, girls specifically. As a student of an all-girls school, I cannot speak for teenage boys, but I can speak of the toll that constant assessments are taking on girls. I have seen exam stress push students to the limits, some girls scraping by on only a few hours of sleep each night so that they can feel prepared for exams. I have seen students cry before they even receive results of their tests back, because they are certain that they didn’t perform well and that one bad grade will be a permanent stain on the duration of their schooling. And I know that I have only seen a fraction of how these exams are affecting my peers because many wait until they get home to break down over an undesirable grade. 

The prospect of a bad grade can cause one of two extremes in my experience, a student working themselves to the bone for a mark, or a student becoming so stressed by the prospect of a bad mark that they become so preoccupied with their concerns they cannot work at all and then feel guilty for ‘procrastinating’. Both of these extremes kickstart a vicious cycle that can be incredibly difficult to stop until all assessments for the term are finished. 

I myself have been on both sides of the coin in the past, and I’m sure that I will be again. There are countless students who by no means struggle to grasp the concepts we learn, but no matter how well we might perform in school, we are constantly pushed to strive for more. And when we have such unrealistic pressure placed upon us to fulfil such wild expectations, is it any question that we don’t have the time or the energy to put energy into NAPLAN exams?

Louisa Gunning is a soon to be senior high school student who works behind the scenes at P & I. 

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