A decade of NAPLAN: time for change
With the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy coming into its 10th year of operation in schools, action towards making a change to the problematic standardised test is long overdue, as IEUA-QNT Assistant Secretary Paul Giles writes.
Origins of NAPLAN
In 1999 state Ministers of Education released the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the 21st Century in which they agreed to report on national goals by state and territory using national key performance measures as the basis for that reporting.
Nine years later in 2008 the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling was superseded by the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, which established eight actions to achieve their goals — one of which was to “promote world-class curriculum and assessment”.
The Melbourne Declaration also states that the learning areas of English and Mathematics are fundamental in all areas of schooling.
This belief and emphasis gave rise to NAPLAN.
The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) argued that the National Assessment Program (NAP) is the measure through which governments, educational authorities, schools and the community can determine whether or not students are meeting important educational outcomes.
The tests were and are designed and expected to be carried out concurrently across Australia and to test the domains of reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy.
Students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 began sitting the test in 2008.
10 years later, standardised testing remains problematic
Academics, parents, educational practitioners and unions have been critical of NAPLAN practically since its inception — particularly regarding its implementation and the use and misuse of the associated student results.
Almost a decade ago our union commissioned a national survey NAPLAN and My School Survey undertaken by Adjunct Associate Professor James Athasnasou.
The survey sought responses from Principals and IEUA chapter/school representatives in nongovernment schools throughout ACT, NSW, NT, QLD and VIC.
Many of the concerns identified then remain concerns today, including turnover of results and limitations in providing useful data for teachers to use in the classroom context.
As recently as April this year, Dr Les Perelman, former professor at MIT University in the USA , panned NAPLAN as “absurd”, “bizarre”, and the worst one of the over 10 international tests that he had studied in depth.
Various Australian academics echo Dr Perelman’s sentiments, and argue that attributes such as creativity, passion, entrepreneurship and confidence are often inimical to the outcomes promoted in a regimented education system committed to conformity and content subjected to the tyranny of quantifiable outcomes.
The recently released federal Report of Review to Achieve Education Excellence in Australian Schools noted that tests such as NAPLAN provided a “big picture” general overview of student outcomes, but are of limited educational use as they do not report on individual student growth.
Members of our union have consistently declared that assessment reporting policies and practices should be developed by education authorities in full consultation and collaboration with the teaching profession and their representatives.
Only then will such policies and practice be valid, fair, reliable, equitable and lead to ongoing improvements in student education and outcomes.
NAPLAN as it currently exists does not and cannot measure the full impact of any school’s educational and social impact on students and the whole school community.
Time for change
Whilst the federal government continues to devalue the profession by using standardised test results to justify incursions on teachers’ practice and diminish the space where teachers can exercise their professional judgement, it is worth noting that Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace has led state education ministers in calling for an investigation of NAPLAN.
This investigation will enable the Minister to receive comprehensive data to give wide-ranging consideration to the nature and impact of NAPLAN.
While this evaluation is a step in the right direction, state and territories participation in NAPLAN is governed by a ministerial education council agreement, therefore the state government has no capacity to halt NAPLAN.
However, any investigation will enable the Minister to be in a position to have a considered document on what the issues are and what people are saying, with a view to address the issues at a federal level. Read more about our union’s federal Assessment and Reporting Policy at www.qieu.asn.au/assessmentandreporting