Comprehensive review needed

If you think that NAPLAN has been around a long time you would be correct – as long as the controversies surrounding it. Cathy Hickey, an Assistant Secretary of IEUA Victoria Tasmania reports on the growing political impetus for a comprehensive review of this test and its use on the My School website.

Begun in 2008, the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) became the measure by which the national goals for schooling, in particular those associated with the learning areas of Mathematics and English, were evaluated. However, NAPLAN has become much more than a measure of numeracy and literacy. NAPLAN has morphed over the ensuing decade into a measure not only used in respect to ‘evaluating’ students meeting broader educational outcomes, but more concerningly, the ‘measure’ of a school’s performance and value.

Last year saw a coming together of a broader spectrum of education stakeholders raising concerns. Joining the voices of teacher unions, many parent organisations, and academics, have been a number of state ministers for education who have called for a comprehensive review.

The problems associated with the phased introduction of NAPLAN online were clearly a catalyst. Concerns over the validity and comparability of the two-mode version of the recent NAPLAN tests caused a delay in the release of results and again raised the need for a comprehensive review of NAPLAN.

Nationally almost 200,000 students sat the test online. IEUA along with other stakeholders, had been raising concerns for some time about the introduction of the online test, including questions about the comparability of the pen and paper tests, validity associated with the tests, equity issues in relation to students undertaking the tests online, and schools’ capacity to cope with the mass online delivery of the test.

It’s time for a comprehensive review

Immediately following the problems in the online delivery, the Victorian Education Minister James Merlino, called for an urgent review of the online testing. He joined the education ministers in Queensland, ACT and NSW in calling for change.

In May last year, the NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes, called for NAPLAN to be replaced with smaller, more regular and low key tests. He also expressed concerns, made frequently by the education unions, that the results published on the My School website had become a rating tool rather than a measurement of student progress and expressed concern that teachers are being encouraged to teach to the test.

The ACT Minister, Yvette Berry has been quoted as saying she “held concerns for some time that the high stakes culture around NAPLAN may be doing more harm than good”. Her view is that this culture “is causing unfair stress and anxiety for students and is likely to be working against the overall school improvement we all want to see”.

The Queensland Government last year undertook a review into how NAPLAN is used in the Queensland context. The review considered key areas, including:

  • the value of NAPLAN as a mechanism to support improvement in educational outcomes at student, school and system level
  • how the NAPLAN data is utilised, communicated and reported within schools
  • evidence of the impact of NAPLAN on student and staff wellbeing, and
  • the effect of NAPLAN on the ability of teachers to teach the full curriculum.

The final report of the Queensland Government review has been handed to the State Government, but no mention seems to have been made of the review findings at the Education Council (of state, territory and federal ministers) meeting in December last year.

The recent report Gonski 2.0 also highlighted the limitations on NAPLAN at the classroom level and called for greater emphasis on student growth rather than achievement.

The most recent chapter in the NAPLAN story focuses on the recent decision – and February 2019 notification – by the Education Council of a review of the current approach to the presentation of NAPLAN data including information published on the My School website.

The review is proposed to consider:

  • the extent to which current presentation of data to schools and their communities supports their understanding of student progress and achievement
  • perceptions of NAPLAN reporting and My School data and the extent to which they meet reasonable public accountability and transparency expectations and requirements, including considering any misinterpretation and misuse of information and subsequent consequences
  • how teachers and school leaders use NAPLAN and its results and My School data to inform teaching practice
  • how teachers and school leaders communicate NAPLAN results and My School data to students and parents, and
  • international best practice for teacher, school and system level transparency and accountability.

The review proposes to involve an international scan of international use of school achievement data, consultation with schools, an opportunity for public submissions, and consultation with key stakeholders.

Proposed review scope is not enough

This review of NAPLAN data presentation does not address the full range of issues and concerns that the teaching profession, and more recently some education ministers have called for. While the terms of the review listed above are certainly important aspects to be considered, this review does not go as far as the Queensland review in investigating the impact of NAPLAN on student and staff wellbeing and the effect of NAPLAN on the ability of teachers to teach the full curriculum. It is also not examining the extent to which the data is used by state and system funding for intervention strategies designed to support those students identified as below benchmark.

A bigger question to be examined and answered of course is in respect to those overarching goals for schooling and the value of NAPLAN in supporting the achievement of those goals. Surely this would have to be its key purpose and should form part of any proper review 10 years after its implementation.

The Independent Education Union of Australia is participating actively on behalf of its members in the submission and stakeholder consultation process.