Florence sat still. She wasn't frozen, just pensive; a little concerned, yet accepting.
Florence loved to sing. She also loved to dance and draw and paint and just float about.
Both her brother and sister loved to run. They also loved to jump and tumble and kick and wrestle. Florence and her siblings were different, but similar. She was the youngest and permitted to try things earlier. Florence embraced family life at full-throttle as a result.
Their parents loved, recognised and celebrated the children's unique talents and differences. High expectations were important but so was not simply comparing. They were not born of privilege and fortunate to gain university education; a first for their extended families.
Florence loved school. Her friends were mostly kind and caring, and the teachers prided themselves on student learning and improvement in all aspects. She was bright and capable, but only stretched to maximise her talents in subjects where she felt passionate.
The national testing regime, NAPLAN, made Florence feel nauseous. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't feel comfortable. Fear did not grip her nor stop her from achieving, but it did make Florence worry. A lot.
She understood that tests were important; formal surprises where preparation, repetition and a commitment to study should be her daily grind, but she could not yet convert that understanding to a habit.
Life was a test and learning how to perform in these situations was important. Florence just wished she was doing other things. Hoping that one day teachers may ask her to demonstrate understanding in a manner that suited the way she learned best.
At times, Florence became frustrated. Her favourite lesson of the week, with her much-admired music teacher, was cancelled and replaced by home group and preparation for standardised tests. Through her eyes it just wasn't fair nor beneficial. But Florence was compliant; she was a good student and a good person. She hoped to be a school leader next year, so chose not to utter a word in protest. Florence did wish someone might ask her how it left her feeling when the music lesson was not considered as important as a test.
The school, the centre of the community it served, cared about Florence's results. They were committed to improving achievement ratings, and although determined to reassure parents there was far more to school life than formal testing, everyone knew judgment and funding was based on how their school compared to others.
Florence always finished tasks on time to the best of her ability. Tests were pressure, and although she tried to remain focused, her mind wandered to singing and drawing and painting. She thought about the scene in which she had been sitting and how it might be represented. Some called it daydreaming. Florence called it planning.
She told her parents, at the dinner table, of the moment she laughed out loud when planning to draw the boy who told her at recess that he would chose every B answer on the multiple-choice test. "At least I will get some of the answers right," the boy surmised with a far from clever smirk on his face. Florence shook her head as she explained. "Who told him to do that?" she questioned. "He certainly didn't think of it himself," Florence concluded. "How ridiculous," she dismissed.
Florence's parents valued NAPLAN but kept the regime in perspective; a moment in time providing a snapshot of progress when compared to others across the country. They also made sure that curriculum areas not tested were discussed and appreciated. Florence didn't feel pushed by her parents into areas studied or valued when at school themselves. Instead, offering reassurance and providing a guiding hand; ensuring that she was happy, healthy and on a pathway for success remained important. Working closely with their children's teachers made a difference.
Florence finished the final test. There would be two years' break. Feelings of pride and relief trickled through, making her calm; she had tried her best. Florence was content and her parents would feel the same.
She could not wait to break clear of the silence. Florence loved to sing.
- Brian Wightman is a former state Attorney-General and school principal
The national testing regime, NAPLAN, made Florence feel nauseous. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't feel comfortable.