Schools

Voices opposing NAPLAN mount

May 07, 2018

The call for reform of NAPLAN is growing, as criticism of the tests and reporting of results comes under increasing scrutiny.

Teachers’ long-held concerns that NAPLAN is an inefficient, ineffective form of assessment that negatively affects students and the curriculum are now being taken seriously by state education ministers.

This is, in part, thanks to Federation’s work with international writing-assessment expert Dr Les Perelman, who is among growing number of specialists that condemn the test and its simplistic reporting of results.

Dr Perelman gave a public lecture at Teachers Federation House on 4 May addressing his report Towards a new NAPLAN: Testing to the teaching, published on 9 April.

His study outlined the many flaws in the design and execution of NAPLAN that made it, in his words, “the most absurd and the least valid of any test that I have seen”.

The marking criteria for extended writing tasks were a particular focus of Dr Perelman’s criticism, as they preference use of complex words over correct use of appropriate words, and value “ideas” less than “spelling”.

“The lie I hope I exposed in this presentation is the assertion that the NAPLAN writing test can be considered a valid assessment of any reasonable construct of writing ability,” Dr Perelman said.

He said NAPLAN was a good example of “non-alignment” of testing and the curriculum being taught in schools.

“You have assessment going in one direction, curriculum going in another direction and syllabus-based teaching trying to navigate between the assessment and the curriculum in another direction; it’s not alignment,” he said.

“Good alignment and good testing is where you have a system that mutually reinforces these. When you have a curriculum that creates syllabus-based teaching that is then assessed, which feeds back into the curriculum, which feeds back into syllabus-based teaching etc. That’s a good model for assessment, for teaching, for learning.”

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes wants NAPLAN replaced and is one of several state education ministers calling for a review of NAPLAN. On 3 May, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Mr Stokes saying that NAPLAN was being used dishonestly as a mechanism for rating and ranking schools, and had sprouted an industry that extorts money from desperate families.

The “Gonski 2.0” review into educational practice in Australian schools recommends moving towards more individualised forms of assessment that track student progress according to learning progressions aligned to the curriculum.

The recommendation also included the recognition that in order for teachers to deliver such individualised assessments and teaching, more time away from face-to-face teaching would be required.

The final aspect of NAPLAN to receive renewed criticism is the simplistic reporting of student results.

The Sun-Herald reported on 6 May that Professor Margaret Wu of the University of Melbourne said that a “student’s NAPLAN score on a test could fluctuate by about plus or minus 12 per cent. For an individual student, the growth measures … have an error margin greater that one year’s growth.”

This has significant implications for the interpretation and reporting of data in the form of league tables which are therefore incapable of providing an accurate representation of student achievement.

According to reports in The Sydney Morning Herald on 8 May, the head of NSW Catholic schools was also calling for changes to NAPLAN because of the way data is being turned into league tables, stating that ACARA’s My School website goes against the original aim of the tests.

While ACARA, federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham and conservative-aligned groups such as the Centre for Independent Studies have been attempting to defend NAPLAN, it seems the momentum towards a reform or removal of the national test continues to build, and all eyes are on the ministerial council and their efforts to have the national testing regime reformed or removed.

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