Has NAPLAN had its day?

The August meeting of the QTU State Council voted unanimously to withdraw support for the online version of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and determined to ballot members on banning its implementation and call for a review of NAPLAN with a view to replacing it.

The QTU position is consistent with recent decisions of the Australian Education Union, and therefore sits within a national drive for change.

For the decade that we have been subject to NAPLAN, cyclical public interest has revolved around eerily consistent practices, outcomes and debate.

  • Teachers and schools sacrifice quality curriculum and teaching time to focus their attention, and that of their students, on the preparation for the tests, the conduct of the tests, the aftermath of the tests and public scrutiny of the whole process.
  • NAPLAN results are improving continuously in Queensland and yet there appears to be little evidence of change overall.
  • Results for students from the writing task are concerning: year after year.
  • More than a billion dollars has been spent over the past decade testing students to find out exactly what teachers, parents and the students themselves already know through ongoing assessment as part of the teaching and learning cycle for the Australian Curriculum.
  • We are told that parents want NAPLAN to inform their choice of schools, yet more and more parents are choosing to withdraw their children from the annual NAPLAN process.
  • Media outlets, and some federal politicians, engage in misguided publication of invalid and misleading league tables of NAPLAN results, despite universal condemnation of the practice.

The QTU has been a consistent critic of NAPLAN and the public money wasted on conducting this whole highly questionable exercise. Internationally, even the most strident advocates for standardised testing have gone cold on the idea and have begun to debate the future direction of accountability in school education.

In Australia, NAPLAN has been a major contributor to teacher and school leader workload and a negative influence on student and educator wellbeing.

NAPLAN Online was deferred in 2017 because of major failures and deficiencies in the test platform and in the information technology infrastructure supporting delivery. The push to defer was led by Queensland and this state’s Education Minister, based on key threshold issues and timelines not being met. NAPLAN Online preparations have continued, although 50 trial schools have already chosen to withdraw from further involvement following QTU member ballots in their workplace.

One further concerning development in the NAPLAN Online story is the involvement of international edu-business Pearson International in item validity testing in Queensland schools. Pearson and other similar edu-businesses seeking to profit from public education are the subject of an international campaign led by our world union, Education International. The QTU has sought to safeguard Queensland students and state schools from exploitation by edu-businesses, and routinely interrogates contracts for services in schools to prevent the involvement of for-profit providers in the public education sector.

The QTU became aware of the involvement of Pearson in the item trials in Queensland after a school attempted to withdraw from the item trials and was told by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority that they could not. What unravelled was a web of misdirection involving third parties that has allowed Queensland school students to be used to trial test items that will later be sold back to education systems around Australia as part of the NAPLAN suite. The QTU will act to prevent this from occurring again.

Schools will receive further information and an opportunity to vote to end Queensland involvement in NAPLAN Online during term four. In the meantime, the QTU will, as a part of a broader national campaign, look to build alliances with other education stakeholders in Queensland to act to wind back NAPLAN.

Kevin Bates                                                                                                                      President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 7, 6 October 2017, p11