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NAPLAN statistically flawed

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As schools embark on the NAPLAN testing for the year, academics have called the data generated flawed and criticised publishing on the MySchool website as probably the worst way to use it.

The researchers from universities across Australia said the rationale behind publishing the data was wrong headed; primarily it aimed to improve transparency and assist families in choosing where to school their children but really did nothing of the sort.

“[it] is probably one of the worst uses you can do with this data, it is not reliable, the margins of error between school differences are much larger than people realise, the point of time estimate is just that and it’s not representative of a larger school…

“It’s a very strong misuse of the data in as much as most people really don’t know enough to use it well, so the argument that it contributes to transparency that we will hear from most people is actually not true, it contributes to a misunderstanding of what’s going on more than it contributes to an understanding of what’s going on.

“For parents to be able to take this as an indicator and in a professional way for the teachers, it needs to be taken out of the political realm and put back in the hands of the people who know how to use it,” said James Ladwig of Newcastle University.

Colleen Vale from Monash University who has investigated the Maths component of the NAPLAN test made the observation that NAPLAN ignored two essential components of the Maths curriculum.

“Standardised tests are not the most effective instrument for measuring or assessing problem solving or mathematical reasoning, there might be some items that you can design that are relevant for mathematical reasoning … a test item just doesn’t do it.”

The NAPLAN data could be used as an expression of student learning, up to a point, a better way to employ the data would be at a school level to enhance teachers’ understanding of what was happening on their campus.

An overarching concern was that while we are gathering data at unprecedented levels there isn’t the expertise to dissect and apply what that data reveals about schooling and nor is there the time allowed for teachers to sit together and investigate what has been revealed.

The provision of time for teachers to investigate data and improve practice with it is a hallmark of several high performing school systems.

Vale said that the NAPLAN results didn’t provide the big picture of children’s learning that might really be helpful to parents.

“From year to year the data on the graph is going to show the students being in the same place with respect to the rest of the cohort no matter which version of the graph is being used. Schools need to be emphasising other information that they have about their students that is actually indicative of their progress.

“It would enable us to move away from the deficit kind of conversation, there are a lot of things that classroom teachers see every day that count for more,” she said.

So while the NAPLAN infographics might indicate that not much has happened in terms of results and learning they belie the fact that a lot progress might have been made.

The most valuable form of information that could be gathered comes from the students’ work books and the type and standard of work they are producing every day. The focus needs to be on the nature of the actual ongoing learning that is happening in schools.

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