NAPLAN review calls for focus on improvement, not comparisons

| 27 Jun 2019

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JORDAN BAKER for the Brisbane Times.

See full article here.

Student improvement rather than school comparisons should be the focus of the My School website, a high-level review of  NAPLAN data has found.

The review, commissioned by state and federal education ministers and obtained by the Herald, also called for the number of ways NAPLAN data is presented on the site to be cut, and more education about what they mean.

The report's author, Emeritus Professor of Education Bill Louden, made several recommendations that will be discussed by the ministers when they meet on Friday for the Education Council.

Dozens of submissions were made to the review, some of which called for the controversial National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy to be scrapped, saying it was putting too much pressure on teachers and students.

Others said NAPLAN was a valuable way to check student progress, but argued improvements were needed to the way the data was presented to make it fairer and easier for parents and students to understand.

But the review did not address the main controversies surrounding NAPLAN, and focused on how the data was presented on the My School website, which also publishes attendance, financial and enrolment data about Australian schools.

Professor Louden's report suggested a reduction in the number of ways NAPLAN results were displayed on the website. At present, it is presented in several different forms, ranging from colour-coded graphs to numbers.

It also said "the focus of NAPLAN displays on My School should be student gain not statistically similar school comparisons". At present, gain - which looks at students' improvement over time  - is only one of six graphs.

"Measures of student achievement and gain may be sufficient information for public accountability and transparency purposes," the review found.

The review also called for a technical review of ICSEA, which is the measure used to determine which schools are similar enough to compare, based on socio-educational disadvantage, remoteness, and how many students are Indigenous.'

"Colour-coding of NAPLAN results was regarded as useful by many focus group participants, but stakeholders had concerns about the use of current ICSEA comparisons as a basis for the similar school calculations," the report said.

The report dismissed calls by some groups, including the Gonski Institute, for sample testing in which groups of students are tested rather than the whole cohort, saying it would not fit with the way school systems use the data.

Authorities should also give clearer information to schools, the public and students about the purpose of NAPLAN, the report said. "Students would benefit from age-appropriate explanations of their NAPLAN results."

Peter Goss, school education program director at the Grattan Institute, agreed student gain was a more meaningful measure, although it was harder to capture.

He also welcomed a technical review of ICSEA, although said no model was perfect. "ICSEA is useful," he said. "If a technical review could make it more useful, that would be fantastic."

The president of the NSW Teachers' Federation Maurie Mulheron said the terms of reference in the Louden review were too narrow, and called for a more comprehensive examination of NAPLAN. "After 10 years, they should do a full review with much broader terms of reference."