Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The future of NAPLAN

 The following article appeared in The Australian Newspaper on 1 June, 2013.

A test to suit the 21st century

NAPLAN has a 25-year history of development and refinement but major changes are in view.
The origins of NAPLAN lie in the NSW Basic Skills Testing Program introduced in 1989 and the other state and territory programs that followed by the mid-90s. All tested students in literacy and numeracy and reported to parents as well as schools. The council of education ministers then sought a national picture of students' achievements from the separate state and territory results. This was done, more or less effectively, until the council of ministers -- when Brendan Nelson was federal minister -- launched an investigation into the alternative of all states and territories using the same tests.
The report was received in early 2007, when Julie Bishop was the federal education minister, and the
council decided to create the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy. The first NAPLAN tests were developed and trialled during 2007, and then used in 2008 when Julia Gillard was the federal minister. She drove the program forward and also ensured, through the My School website, that parents saw results for their schools as well as their own children.
The new NAPLAN tests for 2008 were based on an amalgam of the states' and territories' existing test
frameworks. A new framework can now be developed, based on the new curriculum for English and
mathematics and its general capabilities in literacy and numeracy. This will provide a richer framework than the current one. If science is added, then its test framework will be based on the new science curriculum. Another major change being planned is to switch from paper and pen to electronic delivery. The council of education ministers has set a target of 2016 for this change.
Electronic delivery will bring major benefits. It will allow quicker turnaround of results and give schools a better opportunity to use the information diagnostically. Most importantly, it will enable us to target tests more appropriately to students. Our plan is for all students in a year level to take the same first third of the test. The computer will score responses as the students go and, on the basis of their performance, move them on to either more or less difficult tasks for the next third. For the final third, students doing very well will move on to challenging tasks while those struggling will move to relatively easy, diagnostic tasks. There will be one or two sets of tasks with difficulties between these two sets to which other students would move. Having students do different tasks will have three major benefits. First, it will enable better measurement of high and low performers than the current single test for all students at a year level can provide. With the current tests, we see growth plateau in secondary school. We cannot tell whether that is due to the current test not measuring well the higher performances expected at Year 9, secondary schools failing to continue to develop literacy and numeracy skills, or those skills actually reaching a natural plateau. With differentiated tests we will be able to test this empirically. Second, we will achieve more precise measurement for all students by not wasting their time on tasks that are so difficult or so easy for them they provide little information on what students know and are able to do. Third, with students in a school taking differing combinations of tasks, the tests will be less predictable. Indeed, with the tests in all their parts reflecting the overall curriculum, the only appropriate test preparation will be to give students a full, rich curriculum. All students' results can be reported on the same literacy and numeracy scales, even though they will not all be doing the same tasks. A fuller set of tasks will be developed for teachers to download and use when they choose. These tasks will be linked to the national literacy and numeracy scales to enable teachers to monitor and map students' growth during the year. NAPLAN will continue to give parents a report on their children's development that is informed by a bigger picture than that available to individual schools and teachers but teachers will also have a new diagnostic tool to help them organise students' learning. ACARA is currently testing the model of electronic delivery for use in the sample-based survey National Assessment Program (NAP): Civics and Citizenship that is scheduled to be administered to around 7,000 students in each of years 6 and 10 later this year. The next generation of NAPLAN literacy and numeracy tests will transform the monitoring of students' development of these key foundational skills. It will be 21st century assessment for 21st century young people and their families.

Barry McGaw is the chairman of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

A test to suit the 21st century | The Australian