What a new national assessment system looks like

The Gonski Institute offers an alternative vision of NAPLAN.
May 18, 2021
This version doesn't work that well to serve students

One of the prominent critics of NAPLAN, and there are a few, is the Gonski Institute. For them and Pasi Sahlberg the whole program needs to be scrapped and replaced with a lower stakes, less intrusive and less potentially harmful model.

They think that the existing census-based testing in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 should be done away with because the current system is being used for purposes it has not been designed to serve, saying that the initial design of the program was not oriented to teaching and learning and was based on outdated drivers for school improvement. 

Students and the education system are best served through national assessment system that is based less on high-stakes census-based tests and more on sample-based and teacher-led assessments.

The design and implementation of NAPLAN did not include teachers’ perspectives and many teachers are now disillusioned. Moreover, the current arrangements with a set date, one size fits all approach and annual high-stakes census-based testing do harm to some students.

The new system should develop a validated, formative classroom-based Assessment Resource System (ARS), including a library of curated, quality assessment tasks and a national item bank. The ARS will be used to provide formative, teacher-led assessment for Years 3 through to Year 10, carefully linked to the curriculum, informed by the teaching profession and integrated with teaching and learning.

These digital resources are to be used by teachers at the time of their choosing. The ARS should support teachers, complement other teacher-led assessment and enrich current student reports. All the ARS resources are mapped to and closely aligned with the Australian Curriculum and benchmarked to national standards. 

Results from formative classroom-based assessments using the ARS can be included on student reports and made available to parents in a standardised, visual and plain English format that reports on students’ performance in various areas of knowledge and skills over time.

And annual national sample-based testing of students should be conducted for Years 4, 6, 8 and 10. Curriculum areas to be included in these assessments should be diverse and alternate from year to year according to 4-year national assessment plans. 

A quadrennial program of monitoring and evaluation be developed to ensure the national assessment system is adaptive, running optimally.

Monitoring will include student performance on assessments as well as questionnaires and feedback from all assessment stakeholder groups to develop a greater understanding of the broader aspects of schooling and factors affecting student learning.

Substantial teacher input into the development of the system should be in place, with teachers contributing to the design of the frameworks as well as assessment resources for the ARS library and item bank. This is key as the new system will be a for teachers and by teachers scenario.

Together with a new student testing framework, a new program of professional learning and development for teachers needs to be developed. This will have a focus on the development of professional skills with a focus on assessment literacy and assessment for learning, and efficient and productive use utilisation of the ARS.

The institute underlines the importance of an assessment system that maximises the potential for student learning without the risk or harm of any kind to them.

“These might seem very obvious aims for any aspect of an educational system, but they have not been the focus of the current National Assessment Program, nor the many reviews that have examined it. Reorienting Australian educational assessment to students, teachers, parents and schools, as well as system monitoring requirements, provides the prospect of moving on from the unintended consequences, negativity, conflicts and tribulations now associated with NAPLAN; and ushering in a new era in Australian education,” they write.

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