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How to make NAPLAN more useful

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Brett Henebery | 07 Aug 2015, 08:20 AM Agree 0
Declining NAPLAN scores have more to do with the test itself than the teaching, literacy expert Dr Jae Major tells The Educator. Here’s how it might be improved.
  • Patrick Bakes | 07 Aug 2015, 01:52 PM Agree 0
    Finally someone is speaking some sense. Yes, make the test more than a once in every two years 'high-stakes' test. Create a series of tests that can be used earlier, used diagnostically and used as part of a range of assessments. Let the markers analyse the data and not just produce a score but instead produce useful observations and recommendations. Stop blaming teachers and maybe ask if it is a problem with the test itself. I'd like to hear more from Dr Major. One more point. Numeracy too often is testing literacy more than numeracy.
  • Pam Munro-Smith | 07 Aug 2015, 10:10 PM Agree 0
    NAPLAN was never designed or intended to be a diagnostic, formative assessment tool (assessment 'for' learning). That is, its purpose is not to provide teachers with specific information about what their students know, understand and can do, nor to reveal misconceptions, to support teaching and learning at the classroom and individual student level.
    The purpose of NAPLAN is to tell the government whether the funds they are providing to schools is making a difference. Another purpose of NAPLAN is for schools to see if their programs and funds are making a difference. NAPLAN is an annual 'litmus' test. It is a summative assessment (assessment 'of' learning). As such, NAPLAN is neither too late or early - it just is.
    Schools are provided with their NAPLAN results. As a leader in my primary schools I have worked with my colleagues to analyse the NAPLAN data to look for patterns, strengths and weaknesses. When there are areas of concern flagged by a school's NAPLAN results the school should then be looking at its own data. Each school should have an assessment schedule - a timetable for the year documenting when specific assessment is to be carried out by teachers. That data should be collected and held centrally, preferably using software that can produce reports for analysis by teachers and school leadership. In addition, teachers should be assessing their students on an ongoing basis in order to plan their teaching to differentiate and build on student's learning.
    It is this school, classroom and individual student level data that should inform decisions about teaching and learning, and enable differentiation to address the individual needs of students. Consequently, schools need to select their assessments carefully to ensure that they provide the rich understanding of the progress and areas of need amongst their students.
    Once areas of need have been identified, teachers need to collaborate to build their capability to teach in those areas - ideally, immediately prior to teaching them. If the expertise does not exist within the school, it should be sourced externally. Collaboration can only occur effectively if the culture in the school is non-threatening so that teachers feel comfortable to be honest about their teaching practice with their colleagues and leadership.
    Conclusion: So this is how schools can use NAPLAN to improve their student's learning and outcomes: When the NAPLAN data arrives in the school, analyse and identify areas requiring attention, analyse the fine data collected in the school in those areas, make decisions about how to proceed - for example: teachers collaborate to improve teaching capability, expert brought in to coach teachers, students placed in differentiated groups for targeted teaching, etc?? Implement decisions, monitor progress using ongoing assessment and make adjustments to decisions as required. It is the fine, targeted professional development, teaching and learning that makes the difference!
    When the NAPLAN data arrives in the school, analyse the data. Celebrate the improvements resulting from the decisions and hard work of the teachers and school leaders together!!
    NAPLAN also improves student learning by initiating professional discussions such as this one :-)
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