As NAPLAN begins, experts voice concerns

As NAPLAN begins, experts voice concerns

Today, 1.2 million students in more than 9,500 schools and campuses across Australia are sitting the NAPLAN test, which tests students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 on reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy.

For the first time, all exams except the Year 3 writing task, are being completed online. The transition to online testing is designed to adapt the test to a student’s test performance and quiz them according to their individual achievement level as they progress through the sets of questions.

NAPLAN has been the subject of much controversy in recent years, with experts sparring over whether it is fit for purpose, and some even questioning what the test’s purpose even is. Some have even called for the test to be scrapped altogether.

Karen Murcia, an Associate Professor at Curtin University’s School of Education, says there is a need to balance external assessments such as NAPLAN with important and ongoing teacher-based assessments. 

“Teachers’ professional judgment is invaluable and is critical to student learning and achievement,” Assoc/Prof Murcia told The Educator.

“We should be aiming to maximising every student’s potential for learning through an assessment process so the questions is how to we ensure testing programs are informed, valued and useable for the teaching profession.”

Assoc/Prof Murcia said that while NAPLAN’s transition to an online test has been lauded by many educators, there are equity issues that must be addressed. 

“Students in remote areas with limited access to the internet will obviously be disadvantaged by the expectation that NAPLAN testing is only online,” she said.

“Schools are required to have reliable access to the internet and devices and browser that meet minimum technical requirement so the test functions and displays as intended.”

Assoc/Prof Murcia said NAPLAN online testing also assumes that all children have had opportunities for learning with and about digital devices and, that they have progressed sufficiently on the continuum of ICT capability to manage and operate test question functions. 

“For example, our youngest children in year 3, while completing numeracy testing will also have their digital capabilities tested, mouse and key board skills and comprehension of the digital design of text.”

‘The time is right for a redesigned national assessment system’

Professor Pasi Sahlberg, Deputy Director of the Gonski Institute for Education, says that whereas many other countries national assessments have moved away from high stakes testing of basic knowledge as the sole metric of educational performance, Australia is “trailing the leading education nations with its outdated NAPLAN”.

"The time is right for a redesigned national assessment system that combines sample-based national assessments with a modern program of classroom-based and school-led assessments,” Professor Sahlberg said.

“Research shows that it is teacher-led classroom assessment, and other school-based assessments, that hold the greatest potential for educational betterment for everyone."

Dr Lucinda McKnight, Senior lecturer at Curriculum Pedagogy at Deakin and ARC DECRA Fellow, is undertaking a national study of the teaching of writing.

She says despite research indicating that the main problem with the teaching of writing in Australia is NAPLAN’s narrow focus, NAPLAN continues.

“As NAPLAN approaches, the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) has recommended that the teaching and assessment of writing need to align. Yet further recommendations are in direct conflict with the writing NAPLAN requires,” Dr McKnight said.

“Despite AERO calling for students to write for meaningful audiences and purposes, NAPLAN writing is “fake” writing directed to no audience and for no real purpose. NAPLAN continues to value mechanics over ideas, and formula over innovation. Its assessment regime relies on crude rules, such as that simple words are bad words.”