Experts weigh in on NAPLAN review

Experts weigh in on NAPLAN review

Last week, the governments of Victoria, NSW and Queensland released the terms of reference for their own separate review of NAPLAN, setting the stage for the controversial test’s sixth review since its was launched in 2008.

The terms include defining the objectives of standardised testing; improving support for individual student growth and school improvement; and improving information for parents on school and student performance.

Last Thursday, NSW Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell, who initiated the review in June, said the test should be linked to the curriculum, focus on student growth and test informative writing.

In a statement released the same day, Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, said it was “common sense” to review the test and see what changes should make to ensure it is meeting the needs of schools, parents and students.

“The review may lead to significant change or it may recommend scrapping NAPLAN all together and replacing it with something new – but we will always need some form of standardised testing,” he said.

The Ministers are now trying to increase support for the prospective review. Queensland Education Minister, Grace Grace, encouraged the Federal Government and other states and territory governments to join the review to “ensure as many stakeholders as possible can have their say”.

Some academics, including UNSW associate professor Jihyun Lee and Dr Katharine Swain of Flinders University, have weighed in, saying an overhaul of the test is “long overdue”.

“If NAPLAN continues to be treated as a tool to benefit individual student achievement, it is unlikely that the review itself will change the current public views about its effectiveness,” associate professor Lee said.

“It is only a single measure per year level, which cannot appropriately address a wide range of student learning disposition and abilities.”

However, other experts are calling for caution ahead of any comprehensive review of the test.

Australian Catholic University research fellow, Dr Kevin Donnelly, recently told The Australian that the review was “like watching a slow-moving train wreck” and labelled it a “Trojan horse that will, in all likelihood, dumb down Australian classrooms”.

Associate professor Ian Hardy from the University of Queensland has also urged caution, saying there is a risk that any new testing regime “may repeat many of the errors of the past”.

Associate Professor Hardy is an expert on education policy; he co-convenes the Australian Association for Research in Education's Special Interest Group on Politics and Policy in Education and has conducted research on NAPLAN.

In his view, policy makers must make a concerted effort to avoid repeating the mistakes that have caused issues for NAPLAN.

“The recently released Terms of Reference for the review of NAPLAN reveal a continued focus upon and faith in standardised testing as a vehicle to inform educational provision in Australia,” he said.

“The terms of reference gesture towards the possibility that such tests may be potentially beneficial in relation to individual student learning achievement and growth, and to inform the work of schools and parents.”

However, he said the simultaneous focus upon systemic accountability and performance management processes – as well as the use of such tests to inform various national, state and territory programs and policies – hint at a risk of trying to achieve too much through a testing mechanism that may not be designed to cover such an array of demands.

“There is a risk that any new testing regime may repeat many of the errors of the past, particularly if accountability demands and processes outweigh the educative intent of such tests,” he said.