Thursday , November 15 2018

Removing, replacing or rethinking NAPLAN. Experts say it’s time to come up with alternatives.

The Conversation

Director of Academic Program – Primary, Western Sydney University

NAPLAN testing starts this week. With calls for a review and one of the world’s leading education experts calling the writing portion “the worst one of the 10 or 12 of the international tests” and “by far the most absurd and the least valid” he had seen, many are calling the Future of NAPLAN into question. In this series, the experts look at options for removing, replacing or rethinking NAPLAN.

Think about where and how you read and write most often. It’s probably not on paper. It’s most likely to be online – using the internet, email, messenger, or Facebook. While print-based literacy skills are necessary in these forms of communication, they are not the only “basic” literacy skills we use.

In classrooms, students learn to read and write using a range of resources, for example, books, pens, paper, apps, websites. But they also learn critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, creativity and communication necessary to achieve their future goals. They are sites of excitement enriched with learning where students are encouraged to take riskswithin a broad curriculum.

NAPLAN online provides students with different pathways through the test based on their responses using tailored testing. Questions get either harder or easier based on the answers to previous questions. But the texts students read and types of questions to answer have not changed to take advantage of the online environment. Tailored testing may provide quicker access to scores, but it doesn’t provide any new or additional information.

Calls to review NAPLAN are coming from principal associations and state authorities but we can’t afford to wait for the full roll-out of NAPLAN online. We need to be considering alternatives now to re-envision NAPLAN so it can assess the challenging, more complex skills our students need to acquire for their future. NAPLAN needs to be more relevant to students’ lives and educational experiences. Using the online delivery in a meaningful way is one way we can change tack.

Alternative tests

One example is the Online Reading Comprehension Assessment (O.R.C.A.). Researchers at the University of Connecticut designed performance-based assessments which assess students during an actual online assessment task.

During the test, students access a limited number of internet sites included within the boundaries of the test system. The O.R.C.A. asks students to conduct research on topics in the human body systems with an avatar as a guide through the assessment task, at a year seven level.

It measures reading to locate information using a search engine, reading to synthesise information across multiple webpages, reading to critically evaluate the reliability of information found on the internet, and writing to communicate a short report of research in an email or wiki. It is a validated and reliable test, being used with 3,000 students across two states in the United States.

An ORCA-type assessment mirrors embedded literacy practices, and numeracy practices, present in everyday life and schooling that reflect today’s students’ world. Testing of language, vocabulary and spelling could be included based on the websites. There are more possibilities for the writing assessment. It could use another mode, such as a video, multimodal product or images for students’ responses.

Another possible alternative are the digitally-based assessments developed in the United States for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP digital assessments use tablet or computer technology to ask a variety of questions and task types.

They assess what students know and are able to do in more authentic or direct ways, including scenario-based tasks, interactive computer tasks, and hybrid hands-on tasks. Some questions include multimedia, such as audio and video, or digital tools, such as an onscreen calculator. Schools are provided with the technology if required.

International achievement comparisons

If Australian 15-year-old students are to demonstrate the skills they need to thrive, like those needed to work and communicate with others required in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), then NAPLAN online will not provide educators with information or opportunities to develop these skills with students.

In PISA, students are asked to interpret texts, solve mathematics problems or explain a phenomenon scientifically using their knowledge and reasoning skills. In NAPLAN, they answer multiple choice questions. If we want to improve our standing internationally then we need to change the assessment tasks students have to complete.

We need to look for more engaging and relevant assessments that use the tools available in an online environment for re-envisioning NAPLAN. In doing this, we will also be broadening the complexity of skills being assessed and making it a more reliable predictor of competency and standard of literacy and teaching than the current online test.

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