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Home > News > Professional Issues > Professional Issues Volume 10 > Rising equity concerns over NAPLAN

Rising equity concerns over NAPLAN

Topics : EquityNAPLANProfessional Issues

NAPLAN must be inclusive of all students including those with a disability and those from diverse linguistic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.


Issue Snapshot: 

  • Reports show that NAPLAN puts students with a disability at a disadvantage 
  • Students from diverse linguistic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds are also disadvantaged by the national test. The move to NAPLAN online also gives rise to equity issues regarding infrastructure.  
  • More consideration needs to be given to making NAPLAN effectively inclusive of all students and responsive to particular differentiated needs.

The National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), which commenced in 2008, has attracted ongoing critique from unions, researching academics, educators and parents – with recent studies showing that NAPLAN tests have being putting some children at a disadvantage.

The NAPLAN tests were designed to test all Australian students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in the domains of Reading; Writing; Language Conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation); and Numeracy.

The Senate Standing References Committee on Education’s report noted that students with a disability are at a disadvantage when undertaking the test. 

The Committee advocated for adaptive testing that takes into account the needs of students with a disability. 

They also recommended effective use of adaptive testing for students from non-English speaking backgrounds to reduce disadvantage to these students. 

Dr Katherine Bates from Western Sydney University recently voiced support for this position, indicating that images used in the writing tests may disadvantage children from diverse linguistic, cultural and socio-economic communities.

“We risk further disadvantaging some students if the images and topics do not embrace the diverse language, cultures and social backgrounds of students who bring varied but equally valuable life experiences to the writing task,” Dr Bates said. 

Similarly, Dr Phillip Roberts of the Rural Education Special Interest Group for the Australian Association of Research in Education called for action to ensure NAPLAN is less discriminatory in regard to rural students. 

Dr Roberts referred to an international body of research that showed rich and diverse literacies in rural communities are marginalised by standard forms of schooling and national testing.

At the same time, the move to NAPLAN online is one that may have profound impact on the NAPLAN testing regime. 

While it may seem a logical step to move to online platforms, the use of online testing (NAPLAN or any other) needs to be approached mindfully and prudently. 

The perceived benefits of NAPLAN online include faster turnaround of information, greater capacity to meet the needs of students with disabilities and ‘tailored testing’, which gives students questions that are more relevant to them. There is, however, considerable debate among educators regarding automated marking compared to the professional insights of teachers, and the preparedness of students to use electronic devices for specific tasks. 

There also needs to be consideration of the infrastructure required by all schools and students to engage with NAPLAN online. It becomes problematic if what is being tested and reported on by NAPLAN is a student’s ability to access and use information technology.

Queensland has had a lead role in both encouraging the move to online testing but also in identifying concerns and issues associated with the online implementation. These issues and concerns led to Education Minister Kate Jones’ announcement that Queensland schools would be withdrawing from NAPLAN online testing in 2017 – a position that was subsequently adopted by other states and territories.

A student’s ability to do well on the NAPLAN test should not be hindered by factors that are out of their control: whether or not they have a disability, their cultural and linguistic background, or their access to resources and infrastructure. 

Our union believes that more consideration needs to be given to making NAPLAN effectively inclusive of all students to ensure it responds to their particular differentiated needs. 

Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.