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Home > News > Professional Issues > Professional Issues Volume 7 > NAPLAN online: it is up to the test?

NAPLAN online: it is up to the test?


With some Queensland schools introducing online testing of NAPLAN next year, the disadvantages, more than the benefits, of digitising remain of most concern.
Issue Snapshot
  • Shift to online testing must find a way to preserve connectivity with classroom practice by allowing teachers to respond to the needs of individual students.
  • Broadband capacity, the ability for students to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the collection of student results must be addressed.
  • ACARA conducting research to transition from paper-based to computer-based assessments.
The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA), which co-ordinates the administration, marking and reporting of the NAPLAN tests in Queensland, will introduce online testing for up to 116 schools in 2017. 
All Australian Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students will complete the tests online from 2019.
Significant planning, development, research and trialling is underway in most states; however, others are opting to wait and learn from pilot studies in other jurisdictions before committing their own students to online testing. At the time of writing, the relevant Northern Territory authority has not indicated when, or to what extent, students will begin the transition to online testing before 2019.
The benefits of NAPLAN online include faster turnaround of information, greater capacity to meet the needs of students with disability and ‘tailored testing’ which gives students questions that are more suited to their ability.
However, there is considerable debate among teachers regarding the disadvantages of automated marking compared to the professional insights of teachers, and the preparedness of students to use electronic devices for specific tasks.
IEUA-QNT Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Paul Giles said while broadband capacity and the ability for all students to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are complex issues for schools to address, a more significant long-term issue was what would happen with student results.
“There is a potential for NAPLAN online to be more about collecting data, rather than supporting education of our students and the professionalism of teachers. It is vital that test results be collected, analysed and reported in ways that allow teachers to monitor students’ progress over time and to identify areas of strength and development,” Mr Giles said.
Discussion among members and their government sector counterparts suggests that while practising teachers accept ACARA’s preliminary advice (based on as-yet-unpublished research) that Year 3 students are able to compose an essay of comparable length and quality on an electronic device, there are strong differences of opinion regarding the readiness of individual students.
If NAPLAN testing is to serve as a tool to support instructional diagnosis and improved learning outcomes, the shift to online testing must find a way to preserve connectivity with classroom practice by allowing teachers to respond to the needs of individual students.
In preparation for the trial, ACARA commissioned research and found workable solutions around: 
  • how to prevent students from looking up answers to exam questions via the internet while undertaking the test; 
  • how to ensure both accuracy and validity of automated essay marking; and 
  • whether there is a significant difference in the number of words students of the same age produce when writing essays by hand, or using an electronic device.
While many online assessments, both in Australia and overseas, have not shown any disadvantage relating to keyboard skills, ACARA is also conducting its own research in this area with specific context to NAPLAN online, with results from the research to be released this year.
Currently, ACARA is conducting a broad research and development program to inform work towards the transition from paper-based to computer-based assessments to properly build the new assessment model and provide evidence-based information to education ministers and the broader education community about delivering NAPLAN in an online environment from 2017.
To maximise accessibility and fairness, other ways to deliver the test in a non-real time environment are being explored. The test window for NAPLAN online has been increased to two weeks to allow increased flexibility for tests to be staggered over a longer period of time. Therefore, all students would not need to sit the tests at the same time. 
Later this year an online environment using the actual NAPLAN online assessment platform will also be made available via an app (for tablets) or a normal browser (for other devices). Students and teachers will be able to familiarise themselves with the testing experience, as well as the types of items to be included in the online tests. Schools will determine the device that students should practise on with students encouraged to practise on a device similar to the one they plan to use for the NAPLAN online tests.
For further information, visit:

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