Assessment in Education: Policies, Pedagogy and Equity

Table of Contents

Introduction.

NAPLAN assessment in the Australian context

Why is it important?.

Implications for assessment policies.

Implications for pedagogical practices.

Implications for equity.

Conclusion.

References.

Introduction to National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy

NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program- Literacy and Numeracy to evaluate the ability of the students based on three key areas of literacy: reading, writing and language conventions (punctuation, grammar and spelling) and in numeracy (Australian Government, 2020). All the schools in Australia, administer NAPLAN in the month of May each year since 2008. It emphasizes on the Australian students of the year 3, 5, 7 and 9. NAPLAN is a test to monitor the progress of the students and compare them with their peers to undertake necessary actions. For the Australian education system, NAPLAN is an essential measure for young Australians to seek their performance at territory and state level with critical numeracy and literacy skills (ACARA, 2017).

As per the Australian Curriculum, NAPLAN is a standardized test. This research emphasizes on the topic “NAPLAN- what are some of the issues surrounding performativity” to investigate the performance issues faced by the students (Australian Government, 2020; Lingard, Thompson & Sellar, 2015). Apart from the numerous benefits of the test and its evaluation for numeracy, punctuation, grammar, spelling, writing and reading, it somehow leaves a negative impact on schools and students (ACARA, 2020). High pressure can be observed for teachers to meet the desired performance which the required learning opportunities, efficient pedagogy style and curriculum choice. Through the analysis of NAPLAN and school’s assessment, adequacy and accuracy have been questioned with a measure of student learning and challenges faced by students (Australian Government, 2020; Lingard, Thompson & Sellar, 2015). Based on significant themes, the literature review consists of a thematic analysis to analyze the issues in the performance of NAPLAN.

NAPLAN Assessment in The Australian Context

Assessment purpose and context are closely linked that are required while planning an assessment. The key purpose of the assessment is to collect all the appropriate information regarding the student that can meet the needs of progress and performance to make judgements about the interest and required learning process for the benefit of the student (Lingard, Thompson & Sellar, 2015). The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) are responsible for independently design the curriculum and assessment for students. It includes the development and administration of national assessments, national school curriculum and provides relevant guidance and support to the teachers with available information (ACARA, 2020; Australian Government, 2020).

The Australian Curriculum focuses on eight learning areas which are Language, Health and Physical Education, Technologies, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Sciences, Mathematics and English. Wherein the National Assessment Program (NAP) has established a program based on distinguished assessments to meet the desired education goals for students (Australian Government, 2020; Lingard, Thompson & Sellar, 2015). NAPLAN is a structured assessment framework for Australian students to achieve the desired level of education and learning experiences to fulfil the needs of the international level. Comparability is the key aspect of the NAPLAN assessment aligned to the Australian Curriculum. For the effectiveness of the assessment, both online and paper modes are promoted to reduce the difficulty level and measure a complete range of student’s abilities. Wherein ACARA focuses on the continual development of the NAPLAN tests to manage improvement for the benefit of the economy. The initial plan of the Australian National Assessment Program is to meet the educational outcomes based on numeracy and literacy with the key knowledge areas. A constant measure is required for the students to meet their needs of learning and provide a relevant experience (Cumming, Wyatt-Smith & Colbert, 2016).

NAPLAN helps in achieving all the needs for student’s achievement which can be considered as a useful national comparable evidence. Through the design and development of NAPLAN by ACARA the following goals have consisted of the Melbourne declaration:

  • Equity and excellence are targeted for Australian schooling
  • To promote successful young learners with creative skills and active involvement (ACARA, 2017; Bahr & Pendergast, 2018).

The educational ministers have focused on the needs of numeracy and literacy with corresponding disciplines. For the educational enhancement of young Australians, a high emphasis on numeracy and literacy skills is required. The commitment to better student progress is committed as comprehensive and rigorous. A combination of the personal judgement of teachers and national testing records helps in assessing the skills of the learners with a defined curriculum (Australian Government, 2020; Lingard, Thompson & Sellar, 2015). The NAPLAN test is based on standardized judgement to evaluate the progress of individuals and meet the following principles:

  • Align the numeracy and literacy skills based on the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics and English
  • Development of the NAPLAN tests reduce the influence of student’s diverse backgrounds
  • Administer the test with specified conditions that can be relevant for all the students whose skills are being evaluated
  • Promote optimum participation of all the learners (Bahr & Pendergast, 2018).

General capabilities of the students can be analyzed with the NAPLAN test through demonstrated abilities in the area of numeracy and literacy. It is effectively-identified as a comprehensive balanced assessment system to meet the needs of local assessments and gathering professional judgements for the schools (Swain, Pendergast & Cumming, 2018). As per the Australian Curriculum, three interrelated aspects of the test are literacy, literature and language wherein two of the elements (literacy and language) are based on literacy general capability. For the effective learning experience of the learners, standards Australian English is used in the test. The in the Australian context, NAPLAN test is designed by the organization to improve the learning capability of students and compare it with others to gain a professional judgement based on the reports. As a summative assessment, it fulfils the needs of the Australian curriculum and allows several opportunities for the students to learn several skills (Cumming, Wyatt-Smith & Colbert, 2016).

Why is it Important?

Improvement in student's performance is desired by the community and government through National Assessments. With the use of NAPLAN, the performance of students was supposed to be improved at the national and school-level which can benefit the whole society. A standardized test with different levels of complexities can easily identify the knowledge assessment of students (Swain, Pendergast & Cumming, 2018). With the use of national assessment scale, the individual performance of each student is analyzed wherein no criteria is made for a pass or fail. Parents, teachers and students monitor the performances with a single scale and compare with the previous year students. A national minimum standard is representing at the second-lowest band for each year level to investigate the performance of students and demonstrate the numeracy and literacy skills. The performance of a student can be compared with the average performance of Australian students in a particular year for each level. Wherein based on different schools, the results are also available on My School to analyze the data of different schools available in Australia (Australian Government, 2020; Lingard, Thompson & Sellar, 2015).

The above figure represents the required bands for each year to analyze the performance of the students. Based on the NAPLAN scale the performance and knowledge level of the student is evaluated by teachers and parents to enhance proficiency. In relation with Hattie's areas of influence on the successful learning opportunities of students, different areas are concentrated for the assessment such as curriculum, school, student, teacher, home and teaching approaches used by the teachers (Swain, Pendergast & Cumming, 2018; Wu, 2015).

However, it can be noticed that not much improvement can be seen among students across the country through NAPLAN tests. There is no proof of the statistical improvement that marks a significant improvement in the students’ performance based on numeracy and literacy (Swain, Pendergast & Cumming, 2018; Wu, 2015). Wherein the NAPLAN tests began in 2008 and still there is no improvement among children in high school. Although a slight improvement can be seen in the primary years. The results and performance levels of Australian students is declining in the international platform which is a key concern for the educators and policymakers. The below figure shows the performance level of students based on the NAPLAN assessment tests from 2008 to 2017 (Dodd, 2017).

A blend of technology and learning approaches of teachers promote instructions enhanced assessment opportunity. While this data can lead to a negative learning environment with a pressure to enhance the performance and continually gaining the understanding of teaching concepts. Through the use of NAPLAN assessment and focusing on better results by the teachers, a high competition can be seen among students which is a non-motivational factor. Availability of data regarding the student’s performance allows a high level of comparison among peers which can be availed by anyone. It creates an issue in using NAPLAN data and leading towards an effective performance that can transform the Australian education system (Cumming, Wyatt-Smith & Colbert, 2016; Smith, Parr & Muhidin, 2019).

NAPLAN assessment test lacks in creativity, learning and curiosity as it is based on a specific pattern. Students lack in developing interest in the test and it can impact the future of the children as innovators and leaders (Dodd, 2017; Lingard, Thompson & Sellar, 2016). High competition and focusing on good scores minimizes active exploration and concrete learning. The experiential learning theory focuses on the abstract conceptualization, reflective observation, concrete learning and active experimentation while NAPLAN test is based on the significant learning style wherein traditional teaching approaches are mainly used by teachers. Practical learning develops student's interest to learn in the new environment while the outcomes and learning of students for NAPLAN are based on teachers and their learning styles. It is not based on the process of problem-solving while with the pressure of testing and time, the students can find a lower performance. All the questions in the test are based on a multiple-choice question which cannot specifically present the learner's knowledge (Swain, Pendergast & Cumming, 2018; Wu, 2015).

Implications for Assessment Policies

The current approaches used in assessments are based on the social practices of children to enhance their capability of learning and engage in a positive learning environment. NAPLAN has emphasized on the literacy and numeracy skills of students that can be seen as a predictor of productivity, employment, social inclusion and educational attainment (Smith, Parr & Muhidin, 2019). Education revolution is positioned as the key element for improving teaching and school quality. The major emphasis of the NAPLAN policies to maintain a transparent data and reporting system for students and schools with a new style of analyzing performance within the specified states and territories. Through the test results, a new data set can be produced which can meet the needs of the students at the national level and represent the performance and skills at international level. Clear accountability is also approached by the educational policies of NAPLAN that focus on transparent national data set rather than summative and formative assessments. A relationship between state governance and commonwealth is potentially focused with a great influence of education revolution with an arranged system of schools and assessments (Dodd, 2017; Lingard, Thompson & Sellar, 2016).

Implications for Pedagogical Practices

NAPLAN has impacted the pedagogy and its approaches through the new need for assessment. The curriculum for schools is changed with the introduction of NAPLAN tests to meet standardized outcomes (Caldwell & White, 2017). However, it has reduced the face-to-face teaching time and put a higher emphasis on the literacy and numeracy based curriculum rather than other subjects. With the introduction of NAPLAN, the teachers used to teach for better grades rather than for better understanding and learning experiences. It lacks in innovation and creativity which develops higher stress for students, teachers and parents. The results of the test show the skills of the teachers which put a huge pressure on teachers to promote a competitive approach that can create a negative learning environment. As per the university academics, NAPLAN is identified as an expensive waste which is against the constructive learning activities (Rogers, Barblett & Robinson, 2016).

As per the given results, teachers in Australia face the most difficulty in managing other subjects and NAPLAN curriculum. It requires a high time in managing the curriculum with other areas and requires high energy to teach. It promotes the use of lower teaching strategies and emphasizes on more practising for reading, writing and other aspects of NAPLAN (Cumming, Wyatt-Smith & Colbert, 2016).

Implications for Equity

NAPLAN raises equity concerns for students with several disadvantages over cultural, linguistic and socio-economic aspects. As per the reports, it can be identified that NAPLAN creates a disadvantage for the students with a disability (Swain, Pendergast & Cumming, 2018). With the national test, several students based on socio-economic backgrounds, cultural and linguistic background also face issues while the online availability of the NAPLAN test increases the equity issues based on infrastructural facilities. It raises a need to include the needs of disadvantage group with specific differentiated needs. It has been identified that the students who are from non-English background face difficulty in answering the questions including some images used for writing tests also provide disadvantage for many communities based on different backgrounds. With the online testing facilities, infrastructure can be a major issue for the students which requires specific knowledge of accessing and using information technology (QIEU, 2020; Smith, Parr & Muhidin, 2019).

Conclusion on National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy

It can be concluded that NAPLAN raises several issues based on performativity. Increased pressure over students and teachers represent the needs to make significant changes in the assessment due to the availability of other subjects. The Australian Curriculum focuses on eight learning areas which are Language, Health and Physical Education, Technologies, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Sciences, Mathematics and English. Wherein the National Assessment Program (NAP) focuses on literacy and numeracy skills by emphasizing NAPLAN test. It is quite difficult for the teachers to manage sufficient time for all the subjects and engage with students through practical experiences of learning. However, it can be noticed that not much improvement can be seen among students across the country through NAPLAN tests. There is no proof of the statistical improvement that marks a significant improvement in the students’ performance based on numeracy and literacy. Through the use of NAPLAN assessment and focusing on better results by the teachers, a high competition can be seen among students which is a non-motivational factor. NAPLAN assessment test lacks in creativity, learning and curiosity as it is based on a specific pattern. Students lack in developing interest in the test and it can impact the future of the children as innovators and leaders.

The NAPLAN policies have changed the criteria of available assessment policies and brought a new education revolution with a purpose of transparency. Wherein NAPLAN has changed the pedagogical approaches through a reduction in the face-to-face teaching time and higher emphasis on the literacy and numeracy based curriculum rather than other subjects. Thus it can be suggested that NAPLAN assessment needed to be changed that can meet the differentiated needs of students and promote inclusion through creativity and active exploration opportunities.

References for National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy

ACARA (2017). The Australian national assessment program literacy and numeracy. Retrieved from: https://www.nap.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/naplan-assessment-framework.pdf?sfvrsn=2

ACARA (2020). NAPLAN. Retrieved from: https://www.acara.edu.au/assessment/naplan

Australian Government (2020). National assessment program- literacy and numeracy. Retrieved from: https://www.education.gov.au/national-assessment-program-literacy-and-numeracy

Bahr, N., & Pendergast, D. (2018). Let's abandon NAPLAN-We can do better!. Science Education News67(2), 33.

Caldwell, D., & White, P. R. (2017). That's not a narrative; this is a narrative: NAPLAN and pedagogies of storytelling. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, The40(1), 16.

Cumming, J. J., Wyatt-Smith, C. M., & Colbert, P. J. (2016). Students at risk and NAPLAN. National testing in schools: An Australian assessment, 126-138.

Dodd, T. (2017). NAPLAN tests show little significant improvement in school performance. Retrieved from: https://www.afr.com/policy/health-and-education/after-ten-years-naplan-tests-show-very-little-significant-improvement-in-school-performance-20170731-gxmd56

Lingard, B., Thompson, G., & Sellar, S. (2015). National testing in schools: An Australian assessment. New York: Routledge.

Lingard, B., Thompson, G., & Sellar, S. (2016). National testing from an Australian perspective. National testing in schools: An Australian assessment, 1-17.

QIEU (2020). Rising equity concerns over NAPLAN. Retrieved from: https://www.qieu.asn.au/news/professional-issues/professional-issues-volume-10/rising-equity-concerns-over-naplan/

Rogers, S. L., Barblett, L., & Robinson, K. (2016). Investigating the impact of NAPLAN on student, parent and teacher emotional distress in independent schools. The Australian Educational Researcher43(3), 327-343.

Smith, C., Parr, N., & Muhidin, S. (2019). Mapping schools' NAPLAN results: a spatial inequality of school outcomes in Australia. Geographical Research57(2), 133-150.

Swain, K., Pendergast, D., & Cumming, J. (2018). Student experiences of NAPLAN: Sharing insights from two school sites. The Australian Educational Researcher45(3), 315-342.

Wu, M. (2015). What national testing data can tell us. In National Testing in Schools (pp. 18-29). New York: Routledge.

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