What has the Senate Committee examining NAPLAN told us after reading 99 submissions and listening to education experts, organisations, schools and individuals in hearings?
In May 2013 the Committee was asked to examine the effectiveness of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). In its report tabled on 27 March 2014, two of the Committee’s four recommendations were that:
the quick turnaround of test results should receive the highest priority in the design of NAPLAN Online with achievable and measurable targets built into the system
ACARA closely monitor the use of NAPLAN results to ensure they assist the Government to deliver extra targeted funding to schools and students who need more support, rather than the development of league tables.
The delay between student testing and delivery of the results to schools, and media publishing league tables of schools based on NAPLAN Data from MySchool has long been contentious.
In our submission in June last year we said that for the data to be useful at an individual student level, teachers need access to the results in a timely manner. Ideally this should occur within a few weeks of the student sitting the test.
About league tables, we said that inappropriate and invalid use of NAPLAN as a measure of school performance and funding entitlement is unhelpful, discouraging and damaging.
We also said that NAPLAN makes important contributions to the discussion about education. At an individual student level, an analysis of the NAPLAN data can:
confirm our existing understanding of the students’ strengths and next learning targets
indicate students’ strengths and challenges, providing information that will help teachers to support their pupils.
At a school level, NAPLAN allows for teaching programs, skill levels and strategies to be reviewed – but this depends on whether school leaders have the skills to analyse the data.
However problems occur when data is used beyond what was intended. This has happened with NAPLAN, with inappropriate and invalid use of data as a measure of school performance and funding entitlement. Schools vary in size, tradition, philosophy and practice and any measure of accountability or performance needs to take these factors into account.
It can be dangerous to use NAPLAN data as evidence of program efficacy or evidence of school improvement, particularly when the program or intervention is short-term and not related directly to outcomes measured by NAPLAN.
We don’t need MySchool to tell us how well Independent schools perform but if data is to be collected and used to determine funding, the research needs to be fit for purpose. If students are to be tested, teachers, parents and the students need to know the results as soon as possible.