NAPLAN going online spells trouble, says Ken Wiltshire

NAPLAN going online spells trouble, says Ken Wiltshire

Handwritten exams must be an option for students if the Nation­al Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is to remain equitable, said Ken Wiltshire, who co-led last year’s review into the national curriculum.

Ken Wiltshire, professor of Public Administration at the University of Queensland Business School, told The Australian yesterday that typed essays for children as young as seven would disadvantage students without computers at home.

“This will discriminate against a whole range of students,” Wiltshire told The Australian yesterday.

“There must be an optional writing test available for students — they can’t force everyone to do an online test. There needs to be further research done on the equity implications before this is taken further.”

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) made the decision to move the NAPLAN tests online from 2017, so exam results could be returned more quickly.

Between 2017 and 2018, schools can choose to conduct the exams by paper or online. After 2019, when all exams will be done online, there will be alternative technologies available for students without Internet access.

For example, pre-loaded unique USBs, which don’t need the internet, can be plugged into a PC and be used as if the student were online. It is unplugged when complete and returned by secure post. 

ACARA chair, Professor Steven Schwartz, said handwritten tests would only entrench disadvantage among students.

“Some have expressed concern that students who are not familiar with computers may be disadvantaged when NAPLAN testing goes online. There are two possible solutions to this problem. One is to retain written tests. This does nothing to alleviate disadvantage; it simply accepts and entrenches it,” Schwartz said in a statement.

“The other solution to making computerised testing fair is to ensure that all students are familiar with computers. ACARA prefers the second approach because the ability to use computers is a vital skill that every student deserves to learn.

“This is why information technology is included in the Australian Curriculum. Implementing the curriculum will ensure that students are prepared to use computers and will not be disadvantaged when NAPLAN goes online.”

However, Wiltshire said that when it came to technology, students had “different levels of competency”.

“For some people, technology interferes with the creative process. There’s quite a different cognitive ability in using technology compared to handwriting,” Wiltshire said, adding ACARA should stop the online transition “immediately”.

“We are talking about serious implications for disadvantaged students, just to benefit bureaucrats and technocrats who want to press a button and mark things online,” Wiltshire said.