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“Now that NAPLAN is over I can start to teach?” June 12, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Dr Robyn Gregson

In her first post, Robyn Gregson reviews international approaches to testing student learning and argues that NAPLAN* testing in Australia is having a negative impact on pedagogy and assessment, and contributes to a de-professionalising of teachers in schools.

“Now that NAPLAN is over I can start to teach?” is the cry of many that has been heard in the corridors and staffrooms of both primary and secondary schools.

Mirroring the USA and UK experience, Australian education reform has been driven by political agendas that seek to assign accountability for educational outcomes. Subsequently we have the introduction of National and International testing that will provide comparisons in learning outcomes across states and countries (Perso, 2009). Three such tests are the Programme for International Students Achievement (PISA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International reading literacy Study (PIRLS). PISA tests reading literacy within ‘real life’ settings whereas TIMSS focuses on mathematics and science curriculum-based proficiency benchmarks (Kell & Kell, 2011). PIRLS is a comparative study of the literacy skills of 4th graders. TIMSS and PRILS are grade based while PISA is age based.

NAPLAN (National Assessment Program –Literacy and Numeracy) is the Australian version for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, introduced in 2008. This test was intended to provide valuable information about basic skills, what students know and don’t know and what teachers need to focus on in their classrooms (Anderson, 2009). The data from this national test was to be used to support educational planning for individuals, classes, and schools, and would inform school systems and the wider community about how schools in their local areas compared. While the PISA, PIRLS and TIMSS provide interesting data they have not led to significant changes at classroom level. However NAPLAN is linked to the myschool website, and funding.

Since the introduction of NAPLAN, pedagogical practices in classrooms have been driven by the need for students to do well in the tests. Schools, teachers and students are being judged by the levels that students attain. Teachers are torn between the use productive pedagogies and authentic assessment that support academic progress, and with preparing their students for high stakes national testing. Teaching to the test is longer just a concern, but a reality (Luke & Woods, 2007). A study of the views of teachers by Dimarco (2009) reports that teachers are using their professional judgment to support student success in national testing that has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, teacher deskilling and attrition, corruption of testing procedure and test scores with no evidence that that the testing has led to improve student learning outcomes.

What has become apparent is that teachers are tailoring their teaching and assessment practices to match those of the national tests. There is concern about keeping students interested and engaged while preparing them for the testing. However there is much debate over the effectiveness of such practices. Teachers are concerned by the negative effects such as student and teacher stress, disaffection of curriculum, narrowing of curriculum and a shift from higher order skills to lower order forms of literacy.

Until recently research literature reported that a more positive relationship between pedagogy and assessment had developed because of the shift from assessment of learning to assessment for learning. In the latter, the focus of assessment was on helping students to learn from assessment as well as use the feedback given to improve not only what they know and understand, but how they learn. While educational research focuses on the benefits of constructivist and emerging 21st century theories of learning, the reality of many classrooms in both primary and secondary schools is that teachers are not utilising the types of pedagogy and assessment tasks that promote learning (Tierney, 2006).

What has emerged from recent literature is the destabilsation of the teaching profession with concerns about teacher motivation and engagement of students. The role of national testing is currently under surveillance with anecdotal evidence suggesting that teachers are yet again changing their teaching and assessment practices to align with national testing strategies.

References:   Dimarco, S. (2009). Crossing the divide between teacher professionalism and national testing in middle school mathematics. Australian Mathematics Teacher; 65 (4) pp.6-10.   Kell, M. & Kell, P (2010). International testing: measuring global standards or reinforcing inequalities. The International Journal of Learning, 17 (12) pp 293-306.   Luke, A. & Woods, A. (2007). Accountability as testing: Are there lessons about assessment and outcomes to be learnt from no child left behind? Literacy Learning: The middle years, 6 (3), pp.11–19.   Perso, T (2009). Cracking the NAPLAN code: numeracy and literacy demands. AMPC 14(3) pp.14-18.   Tierney, R.D. (2006). Changing practices: influences on classroom assessment. Assessment in Education 13(3) pp.239-264.

* To source other posts about NAPLAN on 21st Century Learning use our search engine at the top of the page.

Robyn Gregson is a Lecturer in Science education and  literacy for learning in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She teaches in our Master of Teaching (Secondary) program.


1. Margaret Vickers - June 12, 2011

Thank you for this very useful introduction to the literature on the effects of NAPLAN. It is making it very difficult to involve students in critical thinking about the huge social and environmental challenges we are facing as teacher effort becomes focused on narrow criteria.

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