A sign, 'love to learn'

NAPLAN 2022: students should come first

20 May 2021
For student wellbeing and outcomes, only a sample should be nationally assessed
University of Sydney, UNSW, and other education researchers argue that current standardised school tests aren't fit for purpose, and propose a systemic assessment overhaul.

With online NAPLAN tests finishing in days, it is timely to consider NAPLAN 2022. Or reconsider it, argue University of Sydney, UNSW, University of Ottawa and Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) researchers.

The researchers have proposed sweeping reforms to the standardised tests, aimed at improving student learning and assessment experience.

In their report, they raise four foundational questions:

  1. What do students need from a national assessment system?
  2. What information do teachers and schools need to support students?
  3. What information do parents need to support their children and schools?
  4. What is the necessary minimum information that governments need for accountability purposes and to support all of the above?

Report co-author, Associate Professor Rachel Wilson from the University of Sydney, said: “Ultimately, education systems are designed to serve students, yet student needs and experiences are not often part of ‘the logic’ of educational systems and their designs. We started with the needs of students and then built our national assessment model from that starting point.”

A key report recommendation is to replace the current multi-purpose census-based literacy and numeracy testing in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 by sample-based assessments in Years 4, 6, 8 and 10. Census-based assessments involve an entire population, whereas sample-based ones, as the name suggests, involve a sample of the population. This change, the researchers suggest, should be complemented by an Assessment Resource System (ARS) enabling teacher-led assessments in schools to inform students, schools and parents about students’ performance and growth.

“The sample-based assessment method, used in many other countries, allows governments to monitor education system performance without often harmful side effects to students and schools that are common with census-based tests, like NAPLAN,” said Associate Professor Wilson, from the Sydney School of Education and Social Work.

As regards the classroom-based assessments, “these will cover a wide range of curriculum areas and can be linked to national standards and benchmarks”, she said. “It is also more cost-effective allowing governments to shift resources from testing to support teaching and learning in schools.”

Professor Pasi Sahlberg (UNSW) said: “International evidence suggests that many leading education systems are shifting away from high-stakes census-based standardised tests, towards assessment systems that integrate sample-based and teacher-led assessments. These produce more reliable and accurate information about educational progress and issues that require improvement.”

The report considered international case studies from Ontario (Canada), Scotland, Singapore and Finland to further inform the recommendations for a new assessment system. All these countries have assessment systems that focus on students, and the potential of assessment to drive learning.

Hero image: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

Related articles