Moving NAPLAN online could ‘widen achievement gap’

by James Reid25 Jan 2016


Professor Ken Wiltshire – who co-reviewed the national curriculum – has warned that online testing of writing could have “serious implications for disadvantaged students” and that “a very large number of students will lose out”.

Last year, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) announced its plan to move NAPLAN persuasive writing tests online.

The decision was slammed by prominent educators, including two hand-picked Federal Government advisors, who warned the move would discriminate against disadvantaged students.

Kevin Donnelly, who co-reviewer the national curriculum with Wiltshire, agreed.

“Some schools and children could be disadvantaged because they just don’t have the family background or school resources in terms of being up to speed with computers and keyboards,” he told The Australian.

Public school advocate Save Our Schools (SOS) believes the two prominent academics may have a case, citing a research study which found that testing writing by computer-based tests “appeared to widen the achievement gap”.

However, ACARA CEO, Robert Randall denied that moving NAPLAN online would widen the achievement gap. He pointed to the technological shift Australia’s industries were experiencing and said this factored in the decision by the nation’s education ministers to move NAPLAN online.

“There are no logical reasons why education should not join the industries and services in Australia and internationally that are using technology for the better,” Randall said.

“Some would say it already has, and agree that using technology can improve the way our children learn and the way their learning is assessed.”

Randall added that as technology plays a bigger part in education, school authorities will continue to review practices to use technology effectively and efficiently, to improve teaching and learning – not because NAPLAN is moving online.

“Based on what young people do in NAPLAN now and our research to date, we know that an average year 3 student response to a NAPLAN writing question is about 150 words. Typed, this is about 9 or 10 lines and there is no correlation between typing more and a better result,” he said.

“People discuss building an education system for the 21st century. Like the creators of Back to the Future, we are looking further than this to a world that doesn’t yet exist but most certainly includes technology as its base.

“We have an obligation to be preparing children for the world that’s here and the world that’s coming.”

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