Wollongong schools in the dark over latest NAPLAN controversy

There were some “teething problems” but the online NAPLAN test got the thumbs up from many Illawarra students who sat for it for the first time in May.

But three months later schools and parents are non the wiser whether NAPLAN results will provide an accurate national picture of student performance amid fears that the online and written tests are too different to compare.

The agency responsible, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), did however confirm schools and parents will get NAPLAN results in August.

The latest NAPLAN controversy came to a head on Wednesday when senior state education officials raised questions about whether results from the new online NAPLAN test, sat by students at a fifth of Australian schools in May, was statistically comparable with results from the pen-and-paper version sat by everyone else.

Balarang, Kiama, Shell Cove and Thirroul public schools were among 500 trial schools across NSW to do NAPLAN tests online.

Figtree High School and Illawarra Sports High School students also swapped pencils for computers for the first time.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino was the most outspoken, slamming ACARA over its handling of the first of a three-year move to online testing.

“We are now in a position where the data may not be comparable. It is simply not good enough,” he said.

“ACARA has management of this, this is their responsibility and they have not performed well. From the very moment NAPLAN online started, we have had issues.”

In a statement ACARA said it would have NAPLAN reports “to parents and schools this month”. It did not say whether it would release the usual national snapshot and, if it did, what form that would take.

“As NAPLAN is in a period of transition, and this is the first year where students completed either a pen and paper test or an online test, extra attention is being given to reviewing the data and how the results compare between the paper and online testing,” the statement said.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said “it was disappointing to see some people try to mount scare campaigns about NAPLAN by taking advantage of the extra precautions and consultations in place to ensure the first year of NAPLAN online results are rigorous and ready for public release”.

NSW Primary Principals Association president Phil Seymour is among many who raised questions about the comparability of online and written test data earlier this year, arguing also against the controversial My School website, which relies on NAPLAN data to report trends in school performances.