As NAPLAN continues its transition from paper-based to computer-based testing, the assessment program has made headlines once again amid concerns that the data may be too difficult to be meaningfully compared.
This year marks the first stage of a three-year rollout of online testing, with approximately one in five students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 taking the test online.
Following reports that results for 2018 may be delayed, numerous experts have expressed concerns regarding the validity of the information obtained through online testing.
“It is well known that student performances in online test situations are not equivalent to pen and paper tests,” said James Ladwig, Associate Professor at the University of Newcastle’s School of Education. “ACARA has not yet released any of the technical information needed to assess the performance of the online version. As a consequence it is impossible to know the degree to which the test is valid and equivalent to older versions.”
Dr Steven Lewis, Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Deakin University in Melbourne and an expert on education policy, acknowledged that while NAPLAN can offers an insight into schooling at the system level, “Any lack of statistical comparability, be it perceived or actual, between the online and pen-and-paper tests jeopardises its utility as a trusted means of comparison.”
He continued, “My research has shown the profound impact of NAPLAN data, and comparisons of these data, on how schooling is understood and practised by teachers, schools and systems. Unless there is transparency around the statistical procedures and experts used by ACARA to make the data valid and comparable, there cannot be a complete trust in the evidence and comparisons these data provide.
“To this end, I would call on ACARA to release this information to help forestall what is arguably a growing mistrust, amongst the public and education professionals alike, in relying on NAPLAN and standardised test data to inform teacher practice and student learning.”
The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) responded to reports, saying that as NAPLAN is in a period of transition to online testing and this is the first year where students completed either a pen and paper or an online test, extra attention is being given to reviewing the data and how the results compare between the two methods of testing.
“Parents, schools and educators should be assured that the 2018 NAPLAN results are on track to be released soon,” ACARA CEO, Robert Randall revealed in a statement. He added that contrary to media reports, the 2018 results had not been delayed, as these had been released in mud-August in previous years.
“As in previous years, the normal process of working with education authorities in states and territories to review the data prior to release has been followed,” said Mr Randall. “ACARA’s data analysts and measurement advisory experts have advised the data are valid and comparable. ACARA understands how important NAPLAN data are for the schools and families that use the results to ensure their students and children are supported in their learning.”