NAPLAN results: useless to teachers, damaging for students
Once again the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results of students across Australia have been used to create illusions of student and school achievement — while teachers’ professional judgements continue to be ignored.
Comparing online with paper
The release of the results in late August sparked controversy surrounding the comparability of the online and paper test modes.
In the online mode, the tests ask students a range of questions that differ in difficulty depending on the answers given in previously answered questions.
The results for the students completing the tests in the online mode have shown that some students, whose answers decreased in difficulty, have improved remarkably from the last time they sat NAPLAN.
For those whose questions increased in difficulty, they will have shown a dramatic reduction in their capability.
Students using the online mode also have greater capacity to edit their answers — bringing comparability between different students into question as well.
The real issue
Regardless of how the tests are taken, NAPLAN itself continues to be useless to teachers, and damaging to student learning.
National President of the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA), and Professor of English Curriculum and Literacy Education at Griffith University Beryl Exley said discussion needs to move beyond NAPLAN results to the impact of NAPLAN on children’s education.
“The focus… seems to be on the NAPLAN results, but we have to turn the discussion to something more foundational,”
Professor Exley said on the day results were published.
“NAPLAN has exhausted its usefulness.
“NAPLAN does not measure what it proposes to measure.
“It’s negatively affecting the schooling experience for students for up to 8 years.
“We have hard evidence that in some schools students are spending up to 20 weeks preparing for NAPLAN.
“That’s 20 weeks where they are not undertaking the Australian Curriculum and that is a source of concern.
“Students aren’t motivated by the NAPLAN experience and it doesn’t tell teachers anything they don’t know from the other assessments that they roll out.
“Teachers are best placed to decide on the form and timing of assessment.”
Fate of national NAPLAN review in question
Since February, Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace has been a driving force behind the push for the federal coalition government to acknowledge that NAPLAN is in need of review.
Initiating a state review, Minister Grace gave Queensland community members a chance to voice their concerns about the tests — 7,500 responses from parents were received — and is now engaging in further consultation with students, teachers, principals and education stakeholders.
The review will provide advice on the optimal positioning of NAPLAN in the future of education in Queensland, and any changes needed to address issues raised and improve Queensland’s education system outcomes.
While state and territory participation in NAPLAN is governed by a ministerial education council agreement – meaning state and territory governments have no capacity to halt NAPLAN – Minister Grace has committed to pursue the review, and will present the findings to the federal government.
However, with the recent change of leadership of the federal coalition government, the future of a national review of NAPLAN remains unclear.
The federal cabinet reshuffle has led to the appointment of Dan Tehan as the new Federal Education Minister — who has previously defended the merits of NAPLAN.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said NAPLAN is out of touch with the needs of students and their teachers.
"NAPLAN at its fundamental level takes individual student data and compares it against national standards.
"This is then aggregated to compare schools.
“It is outrageous that this data is used in such a way.
“This reveals nothing about how a student is truly progressing — it is nothing more than a political tool used to create league tables of schools.
“Effectively, all that NAPLAN tells us is that a student’s postcode will reveal how well they will have performed on the tests — that socioeconomic status affects results — and any teacher in Australia can tell you that.
“Teachers are the ones who know how their students are progressing, and teachers’ professional judgements should be valued more highly than the results of NAPLAN.”
Mr Burke said the newly appointed Federal Minister now has the opportunity to reconsider the federal coalition government’s approach to national testing.
“Minister Grace’s push for the review has been informed by the voices of teacher members of our union as well as our colleagues from the Queensland Teachers’ Union (QTU).
“It is time for the federal coalition government to start listening to teachers, and to start respecting the teaching profession.”
Campaign to put teachers’ voices first
Mr Burke said our union’s Teaching: It’s Our Profession campaign will fight for concrete change to put the professional judgements of teachers before NAPLAN and other standardised test results.
“A review of NAPLAN will not come of the federal government’s own volition — it will come if union members continue to speak out and let decision makers know that these tests are not in the best interests of our students.”