The push comes in the wake of the Queensland Teachers’ Union’s victorious campaign to scrap the compulsory rollout of NAPLAN Online testing.
Associate Professor Michael Nagel from the University of the Sunshine Coast says while a whole-scale review is a good first move, NAPLAN should be abolished completely.
“The research around standardised testing [like NAPLAN], is pretty conclusive, in that standardised testing paradoxically leads to much lower standards,” Nagel said in a statement.
“I think there’s three [major problems with NAPLAN]. The first is that standardised tests are limited in determining what a student actually knows or has learnt, so they don’t give us a real good understanding of what a student knows.
“The second thing is that they quickly become a high-stakes endeavour, making for a competitive environment, and they’re used to compare things that they shouldn’t be used to compare. You should never take a diagnostic tool, which is what NAPLAN’s meant to be, and use it to compare. And that’s what happens: we use it to compare students, to compare classrooms, schools – god forbid we start comparing teachers."
The expert in developmental and educational psychology noted that the sheer stress NAPLAN induces on students, teachers and parents is the “most worrying thing” about the scheme.
“We should be looking to examine what the children know in ways that don’t create stomach pains and nausea; we have studies that tell us that NAPLAN does this to children,” he said.
Nagel added that while we are quick to point the finger at teachers when student outcomes are seen sliding, we should stop meddling and trust in their professional ability to get the best out of each child.
“In this country we have a tendency when things don’t look well to bag teachers. In Finland, in contrast, they have a tendency to [trust teachers] in what they do, and I think the more we would trust teachers, and allow them to make determinations about where kids are at, in conjunction with working with parents, the better off we would be, because no two kids are the same, and teachers are trained to look at what kids can do, what they can’t do, and help to move them along.”
Associate Professor Jihyun Lee, a specialist in standardised testing from UNSW Sydney, said it was “common sense” that NAPLAN be reviewed after 10 years.
“While the NAPLAN program has focused on developing its technological aspects such as online and adaptive testing in recent years, there has not been a thorough and practical evaluation of the external validity of the program, i.e., its usefulness at the societal level and perspectives from various stake holders,” Lee said.
The researcher added that we don’t know how students really feel about the testing, and we lack a solid understanding of how teachers use the NAPLAN results to tailor their teaching - or indeed if NAPLAN has any add-on value at all.
“There is also a question at the national level, i.e., how much knowledge and information is gained for the public, educators, policy-makers, and academics about our students’ academic achievement?” Lee said.
Literacy and curriculum expert Professor Beryl Exley has echoed Lee’s call for a review, citing concerns that NAPLAN data is being misused.
“We know that NAPLAN is an expensive exercise and we have good reason to be cautious when we see Government and media using that data in ways that it wasn't meant to be used. An example is when claims are made that NAPLAN results are a measure of teacher effectiveness or when a NAPLAN reading and writing result is a measure of a student's literacy capabilities,” Exley, from Griffith University, said.
Exley criticized our whole “NAPLAN era” that has “produced collateral damage” by narrowing the curriculum and crushing creativity.
“For example, literacy has been reduced to the literal comprehension scores and a very elementary form of generic writing.
“We know NAPLAN is affecting pedagogical practice; students are experiencing the teaching of writing as having to learn two basic generic structures instead of writing as a creative craft that moves across multiple genres depending on audience, purpose and context.
“We know there are issues when a certain form of assessment is privileged over other forms of more authentic assessment that teachers, parents and children find useful.”
Exley added that NAPLAN sucked up principal’s time, taking them away from more crucial tasks.
“National standardised assessment can be useful for providing a health-check on the education system per se, but it's not necessary to have census assessment for all students in Years 3, 5, 7, & 9. A cross section assessment will provide enough data to provide a picture of what's happening in the system and to determine the impact of various initiatives in certain communities,” Exley said.