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Can NAPLAN be communicated better?

It’s that time of year again – the National Assessment Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) takes place this week.

Around Australia over one million students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will sit a total of four tests: reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy. While marketed as a mere snapshot of student achievement at a point in time, many educators argue that the “high-stakes” nature of Australia’s largest standardised test, and the publication of school results on the MySchool website, has “reconstituted” the nature of education in Australia and the roles students, teachers and parents are expected play.

Despite these concerns, there is wide-spread agreement that NAPLAN has merit, especially when treated as a diagnostic tool to inform teaching practice. Some of the public and political debates surrounding the test are also positive, such as ones involving transparency, social justice and school improvement. Other debates, however, surrounding student performance, anxiety and teacher accountability, have done little in fostering positivity towards the test in school communities. A culture of "dataveilance" has evolved and there are concerns NAPLAN has unintentionally diminished bi-lingual and bi-cultural education programs in some parts of Australia.

Dr Judy Rose from the Griffith Institute of Educational Research recently co-authored a paper that examined these debates and sought to assess NAPLAN's strength as a communication tool for student achievement. Entitled NAPLAN discourses: a systematic review after the first decade, the paper concludes that NAPLAN needs improvement as a communication tool and that parents need to be afforded a “stronger voice” in the NAPLAN conversation.

The authors of the paper contend that the aims and usefulness of NAPLAN need to be better explained and parents require more assistance in interpreting results, particularly as the test moves online. “The evidence from our systematic review of the literature shows that miscommunications, misunderstandings and misinterpretations are evident in regard to NAPLAN’s purpose, function and value across different fora and among various stakeholder groups," they said.

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