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QTU President Kevin Bates 300pxFrom the President

Kevin Bates, 6 Dec 2019

Educators heard in first stage of NAPLAN tri-state review

The release today of the interim report of the tri-state review of NAPLAN shows that the voices of the teaching profession are finally being heard on the issue of high-stakes testing. A copy of the interim report can be accessed here.

This tri-state review, so named because it is being undertaken by Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, has only just begun to tackle what has become the most controversial education issue of 2019. The interim report gives insight into the thinking of the reviewers at this early stage and it contains some promising signs. The report provides some broad statements about the concerns around NAPLAN and the initial thinking of the reviewers on potential changes.

The report opens with an explanation of the purposes of standardised testing and the purposes of NAPLAN. The observation made here is that the purposes of NAPLAN have been expanded over time in ways that are contrary to the intent of the test. The interim report highlights the proper view that the core problem relates to the purposes for which the test data is used. Comparisons of schools in league tables such as those published in The Courier-Mail today, and the related issue of the mistaken belief that parents choose schools based on NAPLAN results, are front and centre in this critique.

Concerns about the test

The concerns heard so far are summarised under a few key headings.

  • Deficiencies in the test – critical of the whole test but particularly the writing task.
  • Stakes too high – inappropriate generation of league tables by media exacerbates this growing problem and the impact is felt by students, teachers, principals and local communities.
  • Narrowing the curriculum – in conjunction with time lost from other areas of the curriculum in test preparation and the like, NAPLAN has a negative impact on the curriculum being taught.
  • Results too delayed for them to be useful – importantly, the oft quoted role of NAPLAN as a formative instrument is negated by the delays in providing results.
     

Initial thinking about changes

The interim report does not recommend scrapping NAPLAN. Instead, it suggests some areas for change that will be further explored in 2020.

Change the assessments

  • Change the timing – hold the test in February or March, not May.
  • Change the content – review what is tested, with a view to expanding NAPLAN to include general competencies from the Australian Curriculum. The writing task comes in for some heavy criticism.
     

Lowering exposure of results

  •  Reduce display of MySchool data – limit data to a single page report by paring back data published.
  • Remove data from MySchool – may result in the loss of MySchool.
  • Make NAPLAN a sample not census assessment – the QTU has been calling for this as an interim solution prior to the eventual abolition of NAPLAN.
  • Make NAPLAN a sample survey with opt-in – positively, a survey carries even less status than an assessment, and while an opt-in by parents is attractive, the workload associated with managing such a process and the random involvement of students at a school over several days of testing seems prohibitively difficult.
     

Queensland has led the charge against NAPLAN for the past few years. The QTU campaign gained pace in 2017 and 2018, resulting in a wide-ranging call for a national review of NAPLAN. The federal education Minister and some of the state and territory ministers opposed a national review, which can only occur when consensus is achieved.

To her credit, the Queensland minister Grace Grace saw the sense of a review of the decade-old test process, and the state-based review she ordered vindicated the stance taken by the teaching profession and our Union. The report of the Queensland review can be accessed here

The outcome of this campaign by the QTU and the 2018 Queensland Review was a Joint Statement on NAPLAN that now has effect in all Queensland state schools. The joint statement provides agreed limits on those practices of the education system and some schools that were identified in both reviews as detrimental to students, teachers and principals.

Conclusion

Changes to NAPLAN will only be delivered when all eight jurisdictions represented on the Education Council agree. It is far to early to call ideas proposed by the interim report in or out, but it is healthy to be sceptical about the likelihood of real change being delivered any time soon.

What this report does is provide another piece of evidence of how the concerns of the teaching profession have been correct all along. Much more evidence will be gathered from classroom practitioners, parents and students over the coming months as this tri-state review process moves to conclusion.

The shame of ACARA, the NAPLAN Online debacle, is emblematic of the whole NAPLAN debate and the hate/hate relationship between governments, and government agencies, and information technology. The QTU has consistently called for a review of the content and form of NAPLAN prior to the move to an alternative delivery platform to ensure that the test was fit for purpose.

The QTU was interviewed in the initial investigation period for the review, as was the case in the 2018 Queensland review of NAPLAN, with the reviewers respectfully recognising the role and importance of the teaching profession and the unions as our professional and industrial representatives. The QTU will continue to engage with the tri-state review as it gathers more evidence and considers the practical issues of delivering proposals for change.

The ‘head in the sand’ act by some politicians is no longer sustainable. In attempting to belittle the decision of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria to initiate and fund the tri-state review, the Federal Education Minister threw a tantrum, accusing those states bold enough to take on the issue that is NAPLAN of using a ‘dead cat’ strategy to distract from what he described as school performance issues. These histrionics have been exposed as what we knew them to be: a futile attempt to deflect the inevitable findings of an independent review that has truly, deeply engaged with the teaching profession, students and parents. Change is coming.


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