NAPLAN is not only “absurd” and “bizarre” but “the worst of the international tests”, says retired professor from MIT University
Professor Les Perelmen reviewed the NAPLAN writing test on behalf of the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) and told ABC News that it was “one of the strangest writing tests” he had ever seen.
“When I first examined it, I just couldn't believe it,” Dr Perelmen said.
“It's measuring all the wrong things. It doesn't reward spelling correctly. It rewards using big words.”
Dr Perelmen said there should be no word lists in the test’s marking criteria and that students should use the best word to convey meaning.
“It's the kind of thing that 60 years ago many of us experienced with spelling lists in elementary school, which had no bearing whatsoever on the ability to write,” he said.
Georgina Barton is an associate professor in Literacies and Pedagogies at the University of Southern Queensland. In her view, writing is a creative endeavour, an action whereby people express an idea for a particular purpose and audience.
“It is no wonder that Professor Perelman views the NAPLAN writing test as ‘bizarre’, she said.
“Yet the test has a particular purpose. It tests quick writing tasks that are genre-based. Throughout my research on writing, I have explored what students across the schooling years do and think about writing. Most see writing as a chore.”
Barton said NAPLAN writing is “clearly formulaic” and the marking criteria was developed to be objective and uniform – resulting in students being homogenous rather than critical authors.
“Writing should be creative, informed and, above all, enjoyable,” she said.
Beryl Exley is the National President of the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA) and Professor of English Curriculum and Literacy Education at Griffith University, said learning outcomes are “the collateral damage” of the current NAPLAN writing task.
In her view, Dr Perelman’s review of the NAPLAN writing task identifies valid areas of concern.
“The real danger is that so much quality teaching time is lost when these more tangible aspects of the NAPLAN writing task become the model for the teaching of writing instead of the more finessed writing goals of the English curriculum,” she said.
“In addition to the marking criterion highlighted by Dr Perelman, there’s other criterion such as ‘audience’ and ‘ideas’ that add to a student’s score.”
Exley said that in comparison, ‘audience’ and ‘ideas’ carry less weight than the raft of more objective criterion such as a range of persuasive devices, range of vocabulary, accuracy of spelling and correct punctuation.
“It’s this imbalance in scoring that means the more objective criterion become the focus of skill and drill in writing lessons,” she said.
“The imbalance is a result of ACARA’s push for robot marking as robots are better able to mark for the more objective criterion than the quality criterion around ‘audience’ and ‘ideas’. ACARA has dropped robot marking for 2018, but I don’t believe they’re going to let go of the vision for robot marking for future years.”