Is NAPLAN moving online too soon?

Is NAPLAN moving online too soon?

Earlier this week, The Educator invited three prominent principals to share their views about NAPLAN as a system of student assessment in an virtual panel discussion.

Topics debated included the effectiveness of NAPLAN, potential reforms to the test and issues surrounding its transition to an online platform.

One of the key issues highlighted with regards to this last point was that of equity – namely, the widening technology gap between high-SES and low-SES schools.

In May last year, more than 40,000 students in West Australia experienced significant connectivity issues during the online NAPLAN test, reporting that they could not properly complete the test online. This prompted the state’s government to approve pen and paper tests until the problems could be resolved.

There were similar issues in other states, too, with Victorian teachers having to adjust arrangements quickly while Year Three and Year Five primary students felt the pressure of delays and interruptions.

“The main concerns raised included connectivity issues, time lost due to having to continually sign in, white screens and loss of text,” Victorian Principals Association (VPA) president, Anne-Maree Kliman, told The Educator.

“Unfortunately, the concerns raised by principals have once again brought into question the reliability and validity of the NAPLAN regime. When the results come into schools and find their way onto the My School website, the validity of national data sets from this year’s testing will see more questions asked.”

Berwick Lodge Primary School principal Henry Grossek – one of the three principals who participated in The Educator’s recent virtual panel discussion on NAPLAN – is concerned that the test’s online move next year will create similar issues across Australian schools – both public and private.

“The evidence from this year, and from the COVID-19 experience, is that once we use technology much more in schools for student learning and assessment, we see the huge divide between the have’s and the have-nots, both in public schools and independent schools,” Grossek told The Educator.

“We’ll be at great risk of measuring technological competence as distinct from subject competence”.

Grossek said that if system leaders want to be measuring this, they will need to address resourcing issues to ensure that all schools are equipped with quality technology.

Greg Miller, principal of St Luke’s Catholic College in Sydney, suggested that the government could refocus its energy on updating automated assessment to provide quicker feedback opportunities for students.

“If it’s automated, especially as students get older, this could free them up to better understand where they’re at and where they’re going next,” Miller said.

“It could also free up teachers from the grind of the busy work of marking and providing feedback”.

Derek Scott, principal and CEO of Haileybury, said that while he agreed with Grossek that the shift of NAPLAN to an online format will not be without its issues, the future of NAPLAN as an automated assessment that provides direct feedback is “very exciting” for the future of education.

“We might say, ‘let’s not put the results on the MySchool website, let’s use it as that individual school and individual student diagnostic’, but imagine the scenario where you’re doing your NAPLAN testing, you get your results back within a week and are able to see the gaps,” he said.

“You can then say, this student has a gap in area X, so we’ll work on that over the next month and then they can then re-do that assessment. The school can then say they’re helping progress their students’ literacy and numeracy outcomes”.

Scott said this complements the results from having effective teachers in the classroom.

“It’s giving them data, feedback and giving students the opportunity to improve and to get a sense of their own progression,” he said.

“So, I think we should be putting a lot of resources into online NAPLAN so that we can get it right and fit for purpose for this next decade”.