“I didn’t realise just how well our students had performed,” laughs Michelle Streatfeild, principal of Wahroonga Adventist School in Sydney, “until I started getting calls from parents desperate to enrol their kids. In mid-2013, The Australian newspaper printed the NAPLAN test scores of the top 100 primary schools in the nation and apparently we were 28th. Not too bad.”
Not too bad? There are more than 7600 primary schools in Australia1, so being 28th in the nation puts Wahroonga Adventist comfortably in the top one-half of one per cent nationwide for the National Assessment Program–Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). The NAPLAN is a standardised test designed to assess the literacy and numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9.
“When I get calls from parents wanting to place their children with us because they hope we will ensure academic success, I point out that we are certainly not simply about academics,” Mrs Streatfeild continues. “We are about developing the whole person—I am very up-front about that.
“The last thing we want to become is a high-pressure cauldron, robbing children of a well-balanced childhood. We measure success by the kind of people students become, not by a score they receive. So, while the NAPLAN scores are useful, they are only one way we measure our success.”
Jenny Price, a lawyer whose six children have all attended Wahroonga Adventist, agrees: “The NAPLAN scores are a good indication that our children are progressing well academically, but there is a lot more to a great education than performance on standardised tests. We value the school’s spiritual environment and its emphasis on creativity. We want our children to be critical thinkers and complex problem solvers and, most of all, we want them to love God with all their hearts. It is the school’s success at nurturing spiritual development and creativity that we value most."
The NAPLAN has been criticised because some schools have instituted programs specifically designed to prepare students to take the exam. Further, scores can be distorted because schools have academic-based admission criteria in primary school or such high fees that only the most privileged students can attend.
Does Wahroonga Adventist engage in any of these practices? Once again, Mrs Streatfeild laughs.
“Absolutely not! We do what we do not because of the NAPLAN, but because it is part of a well coordinated curriculum that has a love and knowledge of Jesus Christ at its centre. The NAPLAN scores are just a bonus.”
This all sounds so sensible and so low key that it's easy to forget what Wahroonga Adventist School has achieved. If you are Australian, think of the 200 primary schools closest to your home. If those schools are representative of the entire nation, Wahroonga Adventist School would have outscored every one of them. Not bad for a little school with modest fees, no academic prerequisites and that's refreshingly free of pretence.
(Note: The total includes primary schools and schools that combine both a high school and a primary school).