Planning Beyond NAPLAN

Since its inception in 2008, the NAPLAN testing scheme has received much public criticism. In reviewing the article, School test results not improving (The Age), it appears this criticism has been warranted.  When compounded by the issues discussed in the article, We risk losing education race, Julia Gillard warns  (The Australian), it becomes increasingly clear that a change in policy is required … and fast.

Edworks’ 2011 blog article, NAPLAN fails students, discusses the claim that schools are manipulating the national testing system in a bid to protect their own interests.

Another major criticism levelled at the scheme is that teachers often discard academically favourable curriculums to focus solely on yielding attractive exam results — ‘teaching to the test’, as it’s been termed.

The most damning assessment, however, comes from the NAPLAN national report for 2011, as quoted in The Age: ”Nationally there are no differences between the 2009 to 2011 and 2008 to 2010 cohorts in gains in reading or numeracy from year 3 to year 5 or from year 7 to year 9”. In short, NAPLAN testing has effected no academic improvement in students since its inception four years ago.

What makes this discovery all the more disturbing, is the fact that Australian students are being left behind by their Asian counterparts in both literacy and numeracy testing, as reported in The Australian.

In presenting OECD figures indicating that Australian education standards were falling relative to those of nations like Korea, Singapore and Japan, Julia Gillard suggested we are at risk of losing ‘the education race’ and becoming the ‘the runt of the litter’.

So what is the Australian Government planning to do in response? While Gillard has acknowledged the areas requiring most attention — low-income families and ‘kids at the top end’ — there is an obvious lack of direction from our leaders.

For more than a decade those in power have advocated a move towards becoming a ‘clever nation’, yet, little has been achieved. The strategies of literacy and numeracy tuition vouchers (where teachers at the core of the problem were offered opportunities to tutor kids outside of school) and computer handouts have not focused on qualitative measures of success.

One of the fundamental reasons Edworks’ students thrive is that we focus on skills, not scores. The Government must adopt a genuine revolution, which, like Edworks, focuses on the development and assessment of students’ skill-sets.

In devising this new approach, it’s vital we consult experts outside of the current system for considered advice, and draw inspiration from those countries with successful structures in place. A paradigm shift will simply not occur when those in control are inward looking.

Ultimately, if NAPLAN is persisted with, Australian students will continue to flounder while our counterparts flourish. It’s time the Government be held accountable for its failings and commit to wholesale change.


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2 comments on “Planning Beyond NAPLAN

  1. anthony on said:

    It is coming up to Naplan time again. What is interesting is that last year’s 2011 Naplan tests are not being released to the public “for copyright reasons”. It is not proposed to reveal the 2012 tests either, and to withdraw the earlier tests already available on the web site.

    Without the actual tests, it is not possible to know what is really being tested, or the standard required. All one gets is vague “band” information. One can also not use the test results to guide further teaching.

    There are samples floating around, more to be delivered, but they are not the same standard as the tests.

    So why the secrecy?!

    One issue is that people may disagree with the content of some of the tests. It is hard to disagree with something that is secret!

    There are also some errors in the tests. For example, I noticed Qn 10 in the 2008 Year three Reading was
    “Chimpanzees need juicy fruit. Why does the fruit need to be juicy?”
    But the story does not actually say that they do need juicy fruit (and they probably don’t need it). It is a logic error on the part of the question writer.
    (Just because Chimpanzees can get most of their water from juicy fruit does not mean that the cannot eat dryer food and then drink water normally. A confusion between necessary and sufficient conditions. And this is exactly the type of issues that the tests are meant to examine.)

    But errors cannot be criticised if the tests are secret. Secrecy breeds incompetence.



    Naplan contacts: 1300 895 563

  2. Some great points and observations, Anthony, thanks for your response!

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