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NAPLAN writing test “bizarre” says international expert

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Some international perspective on the way NAPLAN's writing test is cast provides some pretty damning criticism of it.

In a report commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation, retired MIT professor Les Perelman called the test “bizarre” and added that it contributes to bad writing habits as the emphasis is on learning big important sounding words rather than clear expression.

Perelman was instrumental in the abandonment of NAPLAN robot marking and this latest report might have the same effect on the form of NAPLAN testing itself.

"It is one of the strangest writing tests I have ever seen," Dr Perelman said.

"When I first examined it, I just couldn't believe it. It's measuring all the wrong things. It doesn't reward spelling correctly. It rewards using big words.”

He wrote that there was a "complete lack of transparency" in the development of NAPLAN grading criteria and that informational writing, which the most common type of writing, was not assessed

The test placed too much emphasis on spelling, punctuation, grammar, and paragraphing at the expense of "higher order writing skills" and the spelling marking criteria was "as concerned with the presence and correct spelling of difficult and challenging words as it was with the absence of misspelled words."

Perelman said material provided to markers on argument, text, and sentence structure was "trivial at best and incorrect at worst."

He even went so far as to write a checklist for getting a high mark which makes for hilarious reading, ending with “Never write like this except for essay tests like the NAPLAN”.

Dr Perelman’s Guide to a Top Scoring NAPLAN Essay

  • Memorise the list of Difficult and Challenging Spelling Words and sprinkle them throughout the paper. Feel free to repeat them, and do not worry very much about the meaning.
  • If you are not sure how to spell a word, do not use it.
  • Repeat the language and ideas in the Writing Task throughout the paper.
  • Begin at least one sentence with the structure, “Although x (sentence), y (sentence).” For example: “Although these instructions are stupid, they will produce a high mark on the NAPLAN essay.”
  • Master the five-paragraph form.
    • a) Have a minimum of four paragraphs, preferably five.
    • b) Each paragraph, except the last one, should have a minimum of four sentences. Do not worry about repeating ideas.
    • c) The first paragraph should end with your thesis sentence.
    • d) The next-to-last paragraph should modify your thesis sentence by taking the other side of the issue in special cases.
    • e) The last paragraph should begin with “In conclusion” and then repeat the thesis sentence from the first paragraph. Then just repeat two or three ideas from the other paragraphs.
  • Increase your score on the “Audience” and “Persuasive Devices” categories by addressing the reader using “you” and ask questions. For example: “So you think you wouldn’t mind writing a stupid essay?”
  • Use connective (Velcro) words such as “Moreover,” “However,” “In addition”, “On the other hand” at the beginning of sentences.
  • Begin sentences with phrases such as “In my opinion”, “I believe that”, “I think that” etc.
  • Repeat words and phrases throughout your paper.
  • Employ the passive voice frequently throughout your paper.
  • Use referential pronouns, such as “this”, without a reference noun following it. For example, “This will make the marker think you are a coherent writer”.
  • Make arguments using forms such as “We all believe that we should do X” or “We all know that Y is harmful”.
  • Always have at least one, preferably two adjectives next to nouns. Thus, not “the dog” but the “frisky and playful dog”.
  • If you are writing a narrative essay, think quickly if there is a television program, movie, or story that you know that fits the requirements of the narrative writing task. If there is one use it as your narrative, embellishing it or changing it as much as you want. Markers are explicitly instructed to ignore if they recognise any stories or plots and mark the script on its own merits as if it was original.
  • Never write like this except for essay tests like the NAPLAN.

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