NAPLAN - more questions than answers

State Education Minister Rob Stokes in the Sydney Morning Herald (21 August) correctly asserts that “by far the most effective way in which we can guarantee excellence in our schools is through ensuring that we continue to have world class teachers imparting a world class curriculum . . . and not overly focussing on a standardised test”.

Within this context the move to ‘testing’ readiness for NAPLAN online has revealed a host of logistical issues – ranging from systems crashing, bandwidth, headphones, the needs of students with a disability through to difficulties contacting the helpline.

What is not widely reported is the time devoted to training, the interruption to teaching and learning and expectations that schools will manage an additional layer of complexity.

IEU members have long accepted the notion of NAPLAN as a diagnostic tool but as NAPLAN appears to be morphing it is time to reconsider its value.

The teaching profession critiquing NAPLAN is entirely reasonable and indeed very necessary at this juncture.

Beyond the logistical issues is the question: why does it need to go online?

Can the Federal Government garner the information from a sampling process or disassemble NAPLAN? Or as Professor Rachel Wilson (University of Sydney) postulates, will they rely upon classroom (curriculum) based assessment?

It is pertinent to note that Dr Wilson agrees that NAPLAN has been “a useful tool for directing resources to areas of need”. Valuing teacher professional judgement and establishing revised structures is viable.

The linkage of Year 9 NAPLAN to the HSC via the Minimum Standard for Literacy and Numeracy agenda is complex. School communities are struggling with the nexus and it’s difficult to envisage long term traction.

IEU August Council determined that the Union should approach Minister Stokes to put on record concerns relating to the ‘readiness’ test and more generally the function of NAPLAN testing. It was further decided that the Minister should be commended for shielding NSW Year 3 from undertaking the NAPLAN writing task online and retaining a pen and paper exercise.

Alternatives to standardised testing which are externally referenced and provide teachers and students with valuable feedback, can be devised.

It’s time to explore valid teacher-centred assessment which can diminish the reliance on testing all in 3, 5, 7 and 9.

Standardised national tests (NAPLAN) are linked directly to commonwealth funding being made available to a state or territory. It’s a complex arena but it’s time for close scrutiny.

With regard to the NAPLAN online trial test, the IEU’s preliminary advice remains in place. That is, members are requested not to sign ‘school staff confidentiality agreements’. ACARA is not your employer and the second dot point “will not disclose content of the test or any related materials and procedures to any other person(s) apart from Pearson and the students undertaking the NAPLAN Online Item – trial test,” is extremely broad. A potential breach of the clause could occur inadvertently in a staffroom discussion.

The Union finds it disturbing that a member could be at risk of legal action if they discussed the contents of a NAPLAN test.

Mark Northam
Assistant Secretary