NAPLAN pilot ‘must not’ be used as stalking horse

Kerri Carr

Computers cannot mark extended written responses properly, says President Maurie Mulheron

A study “to demonstrate that computers can score NAPLAN writing as well as teachers” is to be conducted before NAPLAN testing moves online from 2017.

Federation President Maurie Mulheron said while Federation had no in-principle objection to NAPLAN testing being conducted online, the union does not want its introduction “used as a stalking horse to bring on computers marking extended writing responses”.

“No matter what computer companies are saying, computers cannot mark extended written responses properly and it leads to students writing in a formulaic, convergent writing style to meet what the computer values,” Mr Mulheron said.

“The giant information technology companies have a vested interest in selling their software. They have no interest in improving student writing.”

“Getting computers to mark extended writing responses is nothing more than cost-cutting, as it removes the need to employ markers,” he added.

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) general manager Stanley Rabinowitz outlined several studies to be conducted ahead of the introduction of the computer-based testing at the Australian Centre for Educational Research’s research conference, Learning Assessments: Designing the Future.

Other issues to be examined include ensuring there is no disadvantage to students whether they use a tablet or laptop, fonts and readability, and accessibility.

ACARA recently released results of three research trials into student engagement with online reading, numeracy and spelling assessments.

The reading report states “students with less familiarity with computers had less success fulfilling item requirements than those who had greater familiarity,” and recommends that “only those technical enhancements that all students, including the weakest, are likely to be able to operate are used in online assessments”.

The same report recommends schools should be provided with a checklist of “computer skills and knowledge that students will need to access the online assessments”.

Mr Mulheron said the union was very concerned about students' equitable access to computers.

"Student access to computers is non consistent and therefore not a level playing field," he said.