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Ditch NAPLAN for sample testing: Gonski Institute

Australia should scrap the current census approach of NAPLAN and replace it with sample testing of students, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has been told.

In its submission to COAG’s review of NAPLAN, the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW Sydney said a national assessment and reporting system should be based on scientific sampling and have a single, clearly defined purpose.

Professor Adrian Piccoli, director of the Gonski Institute for Education and former NSW education minister, said the negative effects of the current system outweigh any benefits.

Piccoli said: “NAPLAN and the publishing of results on the My School website has imposed a high stakes dimension to student testing and this has led to increased student anxiety, teaching to the test and a narrowing of the curriculum.

“The Gonski Institute supports a national testing system so the performance of our education systems can be monitored, but we recommend a better approach.”

He said replacing the current tests with one that is sample based would mean the publication of school-by-school results on the My School website will no longer be possible, dramatically reducing the “high stakes nature” of the current program.

The group said education policies in Singapore, the Netherlands, Scotland and China are shifting towards less-frequent and lower-stakes standardised assessments to give more room for teachers’ professional judgment in assessment and reporting.

Professor Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Educational Policy at UNSW Sydney, said the purpose of NAPLAN is not to rank schools. “The assessment should be for use within schools for schools. It can be done in a way that still provides sound data and national reporting on system-level performance.”

Piccoli said: “There are much better ways than the current NAPLAN to provide accurate, timely and useful data back to parents about how they are performing at school.”

Through its submission, the Gonski Institute also recommended that the teaching profession be able to drive the design and implementation of the national assessment.

“Teachers are best positioned to keep student assessments safe from unintended consequences and policy changes that are not based on evidence or success elsewhere,” the submission read.

The Gonski Institute added that recent public and media discourse around NAPLAN suggests work needs to be done to restore teachers’ and principals’ confidence in the national student assessment system.

“The time for action is now,” the team wrote. “We sincerely believe that a reformed national assessment and reporting system, capitalising on the potential of assessment to not only report on, but also support and drive learning, is within reach.”

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