As students around the nation begin the 2019 school year, education expert at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Dr Don Carter, says focussing on learning outcomes and a coherent curriculum should be a priority for schools, rather than placing an excessive emphasis on NAPLAN preparation.
Dr Carter, who is a senior lecturer in Teacher Education at UTS, has research interests in literacy development and curriculum design. He jointly conducted the 2018 study ‘How do secondary school English teachers score NAPLAN?: A snapshot of English teachers’ views’, which was published in The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy.
The study surveyed 211 NSW English teachers about NAPLAN’s usefulness and its relevance to students’ achievement, lives and future prospects.
Dr Carter and his fellow researchers, Associate Professor Jacqueline Manuel from the University of Sydney and Dr Janet Dutton from Macquarie University, asked teachers to rate their agreement or disagreement with statements about NAPLAN. The study recruited its participants through the NSW English Teachers’ Association social media platform.
Following the researchers’ analysis of the responses, some of the common themes that emerged included:
• the NAPLAN tests added little to teachers’ understanding of students’ literacy levels;
• the assessment was a poor measure of student achievement;
• pressure to prepare students for NAPLAN detracted from other learning opportunities;
• pressure to “teach to the test” frustrated many teachers, reducing their sense of professional autonomy.
Dr Carter however cautions that this study should not be treated as a statistical analysis, but emphasises that it gives voice to professionals well-positioned to judge the test.
Teachers were divided as to whether NAPLAN influenced their teaching practices, though many commented that they felt strong pressure to teach to the test.
According to the research findings derived from the study, the researchers commented, “The external, institutional and other pressures on teachers to ‘teach to the test’ have an adverse impact on many teachers, serving to erode their professional agency and autonomy and engender frustration, anger and resentment.
“They also consider that the validity of the NAPLAN tests and the credibility of the data on student performance is highly questionable. Further, despite the extensive government rhetoric surrounding the purpose of NAPLAN and the enormous financial resources directed to and derived from the tests, students’ achievement in literacy has not been lifted.”
Though despite questions as to how NAPLAN testing has influenced student performance, particularly in literacy, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) affirms that student achievement in this field has seen an improvement over the past decade.
In a media release issued in August 2018, following the release of NAPLAN 2018 summary information, ACARA CEO Robert Randall revealed, “Overall, the NAPLAN results for 2018 show that since 2008 there have been statistically significant gains in a number of domains and year levels, particularly at the primary level.”
The release indicated that the performance of Australian students in Years 5 and
9 numeracy, Years 3 and 5 reading, Years 3 and 5 spelling, and Years 3 and 7 grammar was significantly above the NAPLAN 2008 average. Though it also revealed that writing test results in Years 5, 7 and 9 were below those observed in 2011.
When compared with 2017 results, NAPLAN results were found to be stable, with no statistically significant changes in any of the NAPLAN domains.