Illawarra education experts call for overhaul to ‘severely defective’ NAPLAN tests

CALLS FOR A CHANGE: A report by academic Dr Les Perelman has revealed Australia’s NAPLAN testing regime is failing the nation’s students.
CALLS FOR A CHANGE: A report by academic Dr Les Perelman has revealed Australia’s NAPLAN testing regime is failing the nation’s students.

The days of NAPLAN continuing in its present form look to be numbered.

A highly critical international report on NAPLAN testing, endorsed by NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes, has added to the growing calls for change.

Mr Stokes was among many calling for a review earlier this week after a report by writing assessment expert Les Perelman, stated the NAPLAN writing assessment was making Australian students poor writers by promoting “low-level mechanical skills”.

“I believe there is merit in reviewing NAPLAN’s effectiveness with the test now having been used in schools for 10 years. This is a view shared by a number of education ministers in different states,” Mr Stokes said.

Dr Perelman's report, which was commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation, includes an in-depth analysis of the marking criteria for the NAPLAN tests which students across the country sit in years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The NAPLAN essay is severely defective in both its design and execution.

Dr Les Perelman

“The NAPLAN essay is severely defective in both its design and execution,” the report states.

“Teaching to this test will make students poor writers by having them focus on non-essential tasks such as memorising spelling lists. NAPLAN's influence in the classroom could even negatively affect Australia's standing in international test scores.”

University of Wollongong Associate Professor in Language and Literacy Education, Honglin Chen agreed with Dr Perelman that using one set of marking criteria to measure all students’ writing development was not beneficial.

University of Wollongong Associate Professor in Language and Literacy Education, Honglin Chen.

University of Wollongong Associate Professor in Language and Literacy Education, Honglin Chen.

“It can’t be one-size fits all criteria for capturing the textual quality for all writers,” she said.

“There needs to be a sense of cumulative development in how writing develops and how it can be taught .

“The [current] marking criteria don’t allow, give us the framework to identify what it is that is developing and how can we move students along the different stages of their development.”

The Applied Linguistics Association of Australia president added ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) needed to involve researchers and teachers so the NAPLAN marking criteria reflected the knowledge and skills required for learners to become creative, confident and competent users of language.

NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron said the “historic Perelman Report” provided overwhelming evidence that the existing NAPLAN testing regime was “harming our students and harming our nation”.

NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron.

NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron.

“It is now both essential and urgent that responsible policymakers conduct a review into NAPLAN with the goal of replacing it with systems that are crafted around the principles of varied and differential teaching and assessment; that recognises that a student-centred approach to assessment requires the abandonment of lockstep, monolithic, often harmful and regressive, testing,” Mr Mulheron said.

NAPLAN provides ‘incomplete picture’ so review welcomed; Seymour

NSW Primary Principals Association president Phil Seymour.

NSW Primary Principals Association president Phil Seymour.

NSW Primary Principals Association president Phil Seymour believes NAPLAN provides an incomplete picture of how schools and students are travelling.

That’s why he welcomes calls for a review of the one-off test “parents and teachers alike” want changed.

And the Hayes Park Public School principal is happy that a report by Dr Les Perelman has shed light on some of NAPLAN’s failings.

“I think there is a larger groundswell now of people saying we need to look at [NAPLAN] this, its been going for 10 years,” he said.

“It is assessing school performance on a very small narrow little test and it really isn’t good for schools to do that.

“NAPLAN unfortunately can be seen as narrowing the curriculum that’s being taught because people are worried about our results on My School website.

“If it wasn’t on My School website, it wouldn’t be as bad because then you wouldn’t have those league tables being developed.

“I think ACARA is trying to say this [one-off test] is how you judge kids and schools, but it’s not, it is only a snapshot.”

But Mr Seymour welcomed planned moves to introduce an online assessment which will deliver [NAPLAN] results quicker and make it more adaptive for students.

He also appreciated the fact that writing test will no longer be assessed by robots.

This was a view shared by NSW Education Minster Rob Stokes, who “welcomed Professor Les Perelman’s latest comments on the NAPLAN writing tests”.

“His wise insights on the NAPLAN writing tests assisted Education Council in cancelling moves to introduce robomarking of test papers earlier this year,’’ Mr Stokes said.

“I would encourage any wider review of NAPLAN to take into account Professor Perelman’s latest observations.”

A spokesman for ACARA, which administers NAPLAN, said: “The NAPLAN marking guide (rubric) focuses on the fundamentals effective writing – spelling and grammar.

“ACARA has worked over the years to improve NAPLAN and has already reviewed the NAPLAN writing assessment and identified areas for improvement which will be best realised once NAPLAN has moved online,” the spokesman said.

“NAPLAN online will give increased flexibility and a more tailored, adaptive test experience for the individual student.”

- Agron Latifi