NAPLAN is failing as a communication tool as parents and schools struggle to interpret the test’s data and students experience high levels of stress, an education expert says.
Dr Judy Rose is a Research Fellow at Griffith University. Her work examines issues of social inequality, gender justice and child wellbeing. Her current research investigates social, economic and education aspects of large-scale standardised assessment and impacts on stakeholders.
Together with other researchers, Dr Judy Rose recently published a study looking at the themes that emerge from ten years of debate over NAPLAN.
“NAPLAN has been quite controversial from the outset and people have been highly interested in what the purpose and value of the test are. What we’ve found is that this has not been clearly communicated,” Dr Rose said in a video recently posted by Griffith University in collaboration with MCERA.
“So, there’s still some work to be done in terms of clarifying the goals and aims of NAPLAN as it starts to move into an online space.”
Dr Rose said parents need to have a stronger voice in the NAPLAN conversation.
“They are concerned about NAPLAN and how it makes them feel, so they’re trying to outweigh the benefits and costs to see if the test is worth continuing,” she said.
“Parents get one printed report each year that compares their child to the national average, but of course for some children that can be highly distressing if they’re in a low-SES school and their results are far lower than the national average.”
Dr Rose said the way the results are presented mean that parents can have difficulty interpreting them.
“We’ve seen that many think tanks have conducted research on NAPLAN, and we wanted to take a very neutral standpoint to balance the debates. The main finding we had was that NAPLAN is not doing very well as a communication device,” she said.
“NAPLAN is just one test on one day in a year, so it’s just a snapshot in time – not a whole portfolio of student performance over a year, but I would encourage parents to speak to their teachers and principals and ask questions about NAPLAN, and also read widely as it starts to undergo these transformative changes.”
Principals are calling for sweeping changes to the test, pointing to the recent spate of technical and procedural problems as justification.
“This online process for Writing has been a huge disappointment for schools and students. ESA and ACARA have a lot to answer for,” NSW Primary Principals Association (NSWPPA) president, Phil Seymour, told The Educator.
“The validity, reliability and credibility of any results will be highly questionable. Writing online for primary aged students should be dropped from the Agenda.”
Queensland’s Education Minister, Grace Grace, has suggested the problem could be that NAPLAN tests have lost their effectiveness over time, partly due to unintended consequences such as ‘teaching to the test’, reduced time spent on teaching the curriculum or increasing levels of anxiety and stress in students sitting the tests.
But according to Dr Mark Merry, national chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools Australia (AHISA), none of these suggestions explain why achievement in writing is declining while results in other testing domains – including reading, spelling and grammar – are stable or have improved.
“Clearly, urgent research into the teaching and assessment of writing in Australia’s secondary schools is warranted,” Dr Merry said.
“This is not just because we need to know if our young people are losing writing skills; we need to know sooner rather than later whether they are being short-changed in the development of their cognitive skills.”
In a statement, ACARA acknowledged that the technical issues had caused distress to students but said the online version of the test should be given a chance.
“Schools have worked hard to prepare for NAPLAN Online, so it is important to ensure that all students have a fair opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do in NAPLAN,” the statement read.
“The Australian Education Senior Officials Committee, with representatives from each state and territory and the Commonwealth, has agreed that jurisdictional Test Administration Authorities should have the option of offering affected students the opportunity to re-sit tests impacted by significant disruption. Tests can be retaken on Tuesday 28 May.”
The statement went on to say that students who do not wish to retake tests will not be required to do so.
ACARA will consult with states and territories and details of implementation will be available early next week.