Statewide testing divides critics amidst curriculum reform

Absurd and invalid: Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Les Perelman said that Naplan is the worst international testing program he has ever seen.
Absurd and invalid: Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Les Perelman said that Naplan is the worst international testing program he has ever seen.

A week after the NSW Government announced a complete overhaul of public school curriculums, around one million students have sat the tenth year of Naplan exams this week.

NAPLAN, the National Assessment Plan, Literacy and Numeracy, is just that, a marker to assess each school and region on where they stand, with the tests taken by years three, five, seven and nine with each domain scored on a single scale.

While many have come out in support of the program, first introduced by then Education Minister Julia Gillard in 2008, others, including the NSW Teachers Union.

A recent study commissioned by the Federation and carried out by Les Perelman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found the test placed too much emphasis on spelling, punctuation, grammar and paragraphing at the expense of “higher order writing skills”.

“It’s the worst one of the 10 or 12 international tests that I have studied in depth,” he said.

“It is the most absurd and the least valid of any test that I've seen.”

Mr Perelman’s main criticism was that students were getting more marks for using big words, than they were for using original ideas and clear expression, and locally New England NSWTF organiser Susan Armstead agrees.

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“The students get more points for spelling than critical thinking – it is irrelevant and powerless but there is an obsession with NAPLAN data,” she said.

“Another problem is that the test is taken in May, but the results come out six months later in October – imagine if that happened at the doctor surgery – it doesn’t work.” 

Meanwhile the Centre for Independent Studies (CiS), have concluded that NAPLAN is accurate and valuable, and that the criticism isn’t supported by evidence.

Author of the study Blaise Joseph said that studies into the negative impact of NAPLAN on schools is inconclusive.

He also named the three key benefits as it being a valuable tool to improve schools and teaching, whilst also providing transparency and accountability. 

"NAPLAN provides valuable data to show which students are falling behind. It also identifies problems in the school system, which we can improve," he said.

"It provides transparency for school results and it also provides accountability for the more than $50 billion of taxpayer money going into schools every year."