A MAJOR independent review of the controversial NAPLAN program has confirmed the importance of standardised testing in schools, but has recommended significant changes to the test to make it a more effective tool for teachers and families.

The review, commissioned by the Queensland, Victorian, News South Wales and ACT governments, will now be considered by all State and Federal Education Ministers.

NAPLAN has been in place since 2008 and tests students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9 every May but has been the subject of strong criticism by some parents and educators for the stress it places on teachers and students.

Testing was postponed altogether in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed changes

The review’s recommendations, announced in late August, included:

  •  that the test be significantly tweaked to better align it with the Australian Curriculum and include a new focus on critical and creative thinking in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),
  •  changing the current writing test which is “the most problematic”.
  •  changing the name from the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) to the Australian National Standardised Assessment (ANSA),
  •  moving the timing of the test from May to as early as possible in the school year to better measure a student’s starting points for the year,
  •  testing students in year 10 rather than year 9, to provide more up-to date data to inform Year 11 and 12 subject selections.

NAPLAN has been transitioning from a paper test to online testing in recent years and the review panel said once the test is fully online, it should expedite the return of results to schools within days of the testing.

The authors also noted that changes to online testing had resulted in a better test experience for students, due to an adaptive testing approach that gives students questions better targeted to their achievement levels, based on their previous answers.

“(This) has resulted in better assessment over the full range of achievement levels among students and less uncertainty in the measurement throughout the range,”

Overhaul welcomed by Queensland Government

Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace indicated the report’s findings held few surprises and said it was clear “that the current NAPLAN testing is not world’s best practice”.

“This report proposes changes that will address issues we have been hearing loud and clear, that the current testing is onerous for teachers and too high-stakes for students,” she said.

“This review aims to make changes to NAPLAN that alleviate these concerns, all while providing valuable information to schools, parents and the wider community alike.”

Ms Grace said in order to implement the suggestions, the consensus of all states and territories and the Federal Government was needed.

“This is just the start of the process and we will now work with all stakeholders to ensure we get it right going forward.”

Federal Education Minister urges patience

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan, who has long been a supporter of NAPLAN, defended the test and said it was already under improvement.

“The move to online testing will mean results are returned faster and can be interrogated at a more granular level to further improve our understanding of student and system performance,” he said.

“Getting all states and territories to transition to NAPLAN online remains our Government’s priority. Changing the name is not.”

Mr Tehan also said NAPLAN was “the best tool we have to understand what impact COVID-19 has had on our children’s education and to inform what actions we need to take to fix it”.

“Rather than focus our energies on destroying the only national test that provides evidence of how our students are progressing, we should be concentrating our energy on improving standards,” he said.

More information

Read the report in full.

Read the Queensland Education Minister’s statement.

Read the Federal Education Minister’s statement.