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NAPLAN Test Failure

Monday, September 01, 2014

With the release of the 2014 NAPLAN Test results there has been much wringing of hands about the performance of students on the writing task. In Year 9, just half of those tested scored above the minimum benchmark this year. “We need to look clearly at the way writing is being taught in upper primary and junior secondary” said Tom Alegournarias of the NSW Board of Studies (SMH 1/9/2014).

But wait… in Year 9 in NSW, reading and spelling the minimum standard was met by more than 90 percent of students. Doesn’t this indicate there was something dreadfully wrong with the NAPLAN Writing Task this year? The students’ performance is not the aberration. The test is what is wrong. If students demonstrate their literacy is strong in other areas, this should be reflected in all literacy tasks. Teachers haven’t suddenly changed the way they teach.

This problem indicates all that is wrong with the NAPLAN test in terms of reliability and that too much emphasis is put on the results by education authorities. They are afraid of their reputations being affected by the NAPLAN results and so you get the knee jerk reaction expressed above.

High stakes testing driven by a political agenda wrongly assumes the way to improve education is to pile on the pressure and name and shame schools and systems through the My School website. NAPLAN needs a major re-think if the designers can get it this wrong.

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