10 November 2017     No. 11-17
[download as pdf]

Take action on NAPLAN, robot marking,
and the proposed phonics test

At its meeting on Saturday 4 November, QTU State Council determined to conduct a ballot for the QTU to issue a directive to members to cease preparation for or involvement in NAPLAN Online. This follows ongoing concerns regarding technical aspects
of the test, school and system readiness, concerns regarding disadvantage and the recently announced introduction of computer, or “robot”, marking of student writing tasks completed online.

State Council also decided to seek the support of members for a complete review of the NAPLAN testing regime as a whole, following well-canvassed concerns regarding the  impact of NAPLAN on teaching and learning and misuse of NAPLAN data.

Recent reports that Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham is poised to impose a standardised phonics assessment for six-year-olds on all schools as a condition of federal school funding were also discussed by State Council, and it was thought important to seek members’ views on this matter.

Consequently, QTU members will be asked to vote on the following questions:

  1. Are you in favour of the QTU issuing a directive to ban NAPLAN Online in 2018   (including readiness activities, trials and other preparations)?
  2. Are you in favour of the QTU banning robot marking of student writing tasks?
  3. Are you in favour of a complete review of the NAPLAN testing regime?
  4. Do you support a future ballot to consider banning changes (such as a standardised phonics assessment for 6 year olds) that the federal government attempts to impose as part of funding arrangements?

The QTU State Council recommends that you
vote “YES” to these four questions

The ballot will be conducted by your school Union Representative/s from Monday 13 November, closing on Wednesday 29 November. At the close of the ballot, QTU Executive will consider the outcome and issue appropriate directives and advice to members in the week commencing 4 December.

It should be noted that a meeting of the Ministerial Council – consisting of Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham and all state and territory education ministers – is planned for 8 December. Should this meeting determine to delay the implementation of NAPLAN Online, further advice regarding the status of any directive will be provided to members.

Why is the QTU seeking to ban NAPLAN Online?

Not all schools are involved in NAPLAN Online for 2018, however it is very important that all QTU members support their colleagues in trial schools by voting to support non-participation in the online test.

To date, much of the reporting, and indeed the reasoning behind the Queensland Education Minister’s decision to withdraw Queensland from NAPLAN Online for 2017, has related to matters of technical capacity, availability of hardware, usability of the test, readiness of students, appropriateness of online testing and, as outlined above, the intended use of robot marking.

Add to this broader equity issues, the impost of NAPLAN/NAPLAN Online preparation programs in terms of workload and the taking up of valuable teaching and learning time, the inappropriate and unfair use of NAPLAN data by regions/systems/media/politicians, the redundancy of the data given it closely matches student achievement data emerging from school-based assessment, the increasing corporatisation of education and the growth in edu-businesses with a profit making model based on NAPLAN data, and the futility of spending millions of dollars developing an online version of a test that should be reviewed and cease to be implemented as a point in time systemic standardised test.

Should the vote for a directive to not participate in NAPLAN Online be successful, schools who were part of the group moving to NAPLAN Online will still undertake NAPLAN as they have in previous years.

Why does the QTU reject robot marking?

The need to take action to defer or stop the movement of the NAPLAN test online takes on additional urgency when we consider the intention of ACARA to introduce robot marking of writing tasks from next year. There are many reasons to reject robot marking of student writing beyond the basic one, which is that the professional judgement of teachers is completely undermined by such a plan.

Robot marking has been proven to have a range of limitations, including an incapacity to identify creativity and critical argument. Aside from this, there is the basic question of what message is given to students about the purposes and experience of writing if they know that the work they do will never have a human audience. Teachers know that many students disengage from the NAPLAN writing task – robot marking can only serve to exacerbate this disengagement.

It is time to call for a complete review of the NAPLAN testing regime.

All branches and associated bodies of our federal union, the Australian Education Union, have determined to withdraw support from NAPLAN Online and call for a complete review of the NAPLAN testing regime.

Above all, NAPLAN is a workload issue for teachers and school leaders. A review of NAPLAN offers the profession an opportunity to free itself from the onerous administrative work and preparation programs associated with the testing regime. Beyond this, there are many reasons to review NAPLAN and associated practices, including:

  • quality learning and teaching time is sacrificed to focus attention on preparation for tests, conduct of tests and ongoing scrutiny of the results of the tests
  • the NAPLAN results in Queensland have improved, however there is little evidence of change overall and some argue that the NAPLAN regime is, in fact, getting in the way of student improvement agendas
  • much effort and expense is involved in NAPLAN testing, yet the data indicates that NAPLAN results do not vary in any significant way from the results students receive through ongoing assessment as a part of the teaching and learning of the Australian Curriculum
  • some schools report that their entire worth is being judged on the basis of the narrow set of results provided by the annual NAPLAN test
  • we have seen increasing numbers of parents withdrawing their children from NAPLAN testing
  • media outlets and some federal politicians have engaged in misguided publication of misleading and invalid league tables of NAPLAN results
  • despite being advised not to do so, many schools continue the practice of providing students with awards or rewards for NAPLAN results
  • so-called edu-businesses, consultants and corporations are building business models based on the analysis and “improvement” of NAPLAN data in order to profit from school budgets
  • around the world, systems and education experts are questioning the value of standardised testing, onerous accountability regimes based on standardised test data, and the use of such data to drive education policy decisions.

Education Minister Kate Jones has indicated a willingness to work with the Queensland Teachers’ Union to advocate for a full review of NAPLAN testing if re-elected.

The last thing Queensland needs is another standardised test in the form of a phonics assessment for six year old students

The Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has indicated that it is his intention to compel states and territories to introduce a standardised phonics assessment for six year olds as a part of negotiations for federal funding of schools.

The QTU believes that this is an unnecessary and unreasonable impost on teachers and students. It is also a misguided policy given that phonics are currently taught and assessed in Queensland as a part of the Australian Curriculum. Schools also use diagnostic tools such as Early Start to identify student needs and areas of strength in the early years. Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones has indicated that she does not support the introduction of the test in Queensland, however with an election underway, it is very important that the QTU adopt a firm position of opposition to the test.

Strong ballot return vital

This ballot offers the profession an important opportunity to stand up and be counted. QTU members have long expressed frustration regarding NAPLAN, their worries about the introduction of NAPLAN Online, and their concern at proposals to introduce a standardised phonics test for six year olds and robot marking of student writing. It is very timely that we are considering this matter during WWAM (Workload and Wellbeing Awareness Month).

It is essential that all members, from all year levels, subject areas and education settings vote in this ballot so that we have a strong foundation to move forward and campaign for change. It is in the best interests of Queensland students, teachers, principals and school communities to delay implementation of NAPLAN Online until such time as a review of the NAPLAN testing regime has occurred.

Regardless of who forms government in Queensland following 25 November, a strong Yes vote in response to all motions will send a message that teachers and principals reject NAPLAN Online, robot marking of writing tasks, a new standardised test for six year olds and call for a complete review of NAPLAN testing.

You need to be a member to vote

Teachers and school leaders who feel strongly about this issue and wish take part in the ballot can join the Union and vote.
The Union is currently offering membership for the remainder of the school year for $30 for those who join on direct debit.


 Authorised by Graham Moloney, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union