NAPLAN FAT TESTS—Students as young as nine would [sic] take fitness exams so schools across the country can be ranked on obesity in a plan to overhaul controversial NAPLAN testing …
Thus began an “exclusive” article in last Saturday’s Daily Telegraph. It sounds like a parody, but it was deadly serious. The journalist went on to ask various ‘stakeholders’ what they thought of the idea. One suggested that such a plan should be introduced “sensitively” while another thought the proposal was “ludicrous”.
For three days, the story reverberated around the Internet. “Aussie Primary Students to Face NAPLAN Fitness Tests” claimed The Huffington Post Australia. Using capital letters for emphasis, the Daily Mail online declared “School students as young as NINE ‘to be fitness tested’ during NAPLAN”. The story even reached the Toronto Telegraph.
The issue was discussed on radio and featured on news bulletins. The plan elicited responses from both the New South Wales government and the Opposition Education Spokesman who warned that it would put “unnecessary pressure on students about their body image”.
Curiously, neither the author of the original article nor the subsequent commentators bothered to ask the organisation responsible for NAPLAN—the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) for a comment. Had any of them done so, they would have learned that ACARA has no plan to “overhaul” NAPLAN or to weigh children and that no such plan was ever contemplated. Eventually, it became evident that the story emanated from someone with no connection with NAPLAN or ACARA.
It seems we live in an era in which fact-checking is a dispensable indulgence, and critical thinking has gone the way of the dodo. NAPLAN tests are designed to track student progress in learning the core skills of literacy and numeracy. Does it sound remotely plausible that ACARA would “overhaul” NAPLAN “so schools across the country can be ranked on obesity”? A moment’s thought would have been enough to work out that the idea is absurd. Alas, a moment is a long time and thinking is difficult.
Steven Schwartz is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and the Chair of the Board of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority