10 May 2022

Education Minister still concerned about NAPLAN reporting as tests go online nationwide

| Lottie Twyford
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Yvette Berry

Minister for Education Yvette Berry has long been a vocal opponent of NAPLAN and how it is reported. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Although things looked a little different for the 1.2 million students who began NAPLAN testing this morning, familiar criticisms were levelled at the often controversial assessment tool.

Instead of sharpening pencils, students and teachers plugged laptops in to charge as all schools and students across the country sat online versions of the numeracy and literacy tests for the first time.

It’s a move that has been touted as having made the assessment more precise and engaging for students.

The Education Directorate said around 20,000 Canberra students would complete the tests this year.

The majority of ACT students have sat NAPLAN online since 2019, and the Territory’s Education Minister Yvette Berry has, despite this, remained a vocal critic of the assessment tool.

“Over the years, I have made my frustrations with NAPLAN testing … very clear,” Ms Berry explained.

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She said she was especially concerned by how NAPLAN results are reported which “tends to lead to competition between schools that is unhelpful and artificially raises the stakes of the test”.

Ms Berry said the assessment should be viewed only as a narrow, point-in-time assessment that provides limited information on some subjects.

She encouraged parents to interpret the information as a snapshot of their child’s progress or as a trigger to lead to a conversation with their child’s teacher or principal about their school’s approach to learning.

“I stand by the professionals who have always been clear that it is the assessment that teachers do of student learning each and every day that has the greatest impact on student learning,” she said.

“This should be the starting point for any parents or carers who want to know how their child or young person is going with both their learning and their wellbeing.”

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Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) CEO David de Carvalho said the online testing meant questions could be tailored so students are given questions better suited to their abilities.

If students answer questions incorrectly, the adaptive test can then provide them with a different pathway to continue with.

“NAPLAN online also has a variety of accessibility adjustments so that students with diverse capabilities, learning needs and functional abilities are able to participate,” he explained.

Mr de Carvalho said the tests this year were critical to help understand the impact of two years of pandemic-related disruptions and confirmed contingency plans had been prepared.

From next year, NAPLAN will take place in March as part of efforts to eliminate the practice of ‘teaching to the test’.

That move would also mean data could be returned to schools more rapidly and was a key recommendation of an independent review into NAPLAN previously commissioned by the ACT, NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

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Last year’s NAPLAN data showed the ACT continued to slip backwards from the nation-leading position it once held.

In three-quarters of the data categories, the Territory recorded a mean score that fell below the national benchmark.

However, closer inspection of the data showed most students were making progress between years three and five and seven and nine in reading, writing and numeracy in line with their interstate peers. ACT students progressed more slowly than their peers in numeracy and in secondary school for the most part.

Opposition spokesperson for education Jeremy Hanson said last year ACT students have been chronically underperforming for years and the “latest NAPLAN results just highlight the problem”.

He has long called for an independent review of the Territory’s education system.

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I think readers should consider the possibility that the shortfall in NAPLAN scores (relative to the socio-economic indicator) is not the fault of the Minister, or the poor teachers, but something to do with that other big influence in the kids’ lives, their parents. It’s just possible that they are no great shakes academically themselves, despite pulling in ICSEA-boosting salaries.

Just how many times can this Minister go to the NAPLAN complaints well, whenever she starts having issues at Canberra public schools?

It’s obviously become a tactic to distract attention from the real problems.

The interesting thing about Canberra NAPLAN scores is that they are not as good as you’d expect when taking the ICSEA (socio-economic) factors into account. That might not mean that the schools are performing badly. If academic ability has a cultural and genetic foundation then maybe it says something about Canberra households… that they and the parents are doing pretty well pulling in the money even though they are not particularly academic compared with households on a similar income elsewhere in Australia. Or it could mean that Canberra parents aren’t as good at minimising their taxable income 🙂

“Assessment should be viewed only as a narrow, point-in-time assessment that provides limited information on some subjects.” That is true. Every exam that the school conducts as well as similar tests/exams etc conducted by universities and technical colleges test what the student knows at that time. That forms the basis of assessing the effectiveness of the teaching environment and the competency of the student. The real reason for the resistance for Minister Berry is that “last year’s NAPLAN data showed the ACT continued to slip backwards from the nation-leading position it once held.” When your failure as Education Minister can be measured it is difficult to refute. When I selected a high school (in conjunction with my daughter) the ‘vibe’ of the school as well as the school ATAR scores were useful. Now it appears the ATAR scores are not as readily available as they once were.

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