And while student assessment was neither the shiniest or most innovative of topics, there was no shortage of curious delegates at the Digital Student Assessment seminar, led by Dr Stanley Rabinowitz, general manager, assessment and reporting at ACARA.

Perhaps it was the contentious topic of NAPLAN testing which drew a crowd. Titled ‘The Future of Student Assessment’, Rabinowitz presented on a future which he is excited about, where NAPLAN is delivered online and on-demand, allowing students and teachers to truly benefit from the assessment which causes much anxiety and criticism.

 Unperturbed by the failure of this year’s online NAPLAN rollout, Rabinowitz told delegates it would be madness if assessment was to remain with pen and paper. He cited the three main advantages of moving the test online – a better test, faster results and more precise assessment.

“We can have better items, move away from multiple choice, we can have more engaging items,” he says. A key grievance of teachers and principals is that by the time NAPLAN results are processed and sent back to teachers, it is too late to modify learning programs to improve student results.

 Rabinowitz admits this is the second biggest complaint he receives about the test, but will soon be a thing of the past.

“We can get your results back in three weeks, not three months,” he says. “One reason we can get results back so fast is we use automated essay marking,” he adds.

Admitting many English teachers remain unconvinced by the merits of this technology, Rabinowitz says in 2018 essay tasks will be double marked by an expert human marker, and this will be the case for “as long as it takes” to bring teachers around to the idea.

Another common criticism of NAPLAN, and indeed standardised testing in general, is that it is rigid, unable to account for myriad differences in student abilities, backgrounds and learning styles.

“Tailored test design is the most important reason for going online,” Rabinowitz says.

“At the moment everyone takes the same test. For many students, one-size-fits-all testing is a misfit.”

Rabinowitz explains a testing model made possible online, where students begin on the same questions, and then based on their performance in those, are diverted to different questions as the test goes on, which match their demonstrated abilities.

For low ability students, as well as those at the top of their class, Rabinowitz says this will be a huge benefit. “Right now, kids know tests get progressively harder,” he tells delegates, explaining that this causes many low ability students to quit early on, as soon as they begin to struggle.

 “[But] in this particular branching test, kids stay engaged,” he says. And he speaks of ‘NAPLAN on demand’, a scenario where kids take the test when they’re ready, and they can take it in segments, rather than all at once. He says this will lead to lower stress levels around testing, more readiness, and assessment which is under the teachers’ control. We can only hope.