NAPLAN online testing cannot proceed: teachers

Maurie Mulheron

The teaching profession is indicating that the NSW public education system is far from being ready to offer NAPLAN testing online.

Those closest to the conduct of the Department’s NAPLAN Online Readiness Trial — teachers and principals — recently shared their experiences with Federation’s NAPLAN Hotline.

The union has conducted a qualitative evaluation of the many hundreds of responses, revealing that while a small minority of respondents reported the trial went well, overwhelmingly, teachers had poor experiences.

NAPLAN Hotline responses revealed that preparing for the trial represented a significant demand on schools’ time, money and resources from the outset.

The initial response of the profession reveals:

  • Prior to and during the testing, significant and widespread disruption to the normal functioning of schools was reported.
  • Principals and teachers in executive positions commonly remarked on the reality of the trial being conducted on the backs of school budgets and many were not pleased to note the passing on of these costs to schools. The figure for teacher relief costs borne by the school communities were commonly in a range from $1200 to $4000 per school. No offers were made from authorities or the private company behind the trial to meet the relief costs of schools.
  • In addition, schools were often required to use their own funds to purchase hardware items and peripherals to allow the assessment to be conducted.
  • Very often, schools were compelled to buy large numbers of headphones for their students and system support materials.

Feedback from the teaching profession identified a vast range of logistical problems and issues arising from the conduct of the test (see box, below).

These issues were reported from every part of NSW, in primary and secondary school sectors and across categories of schools and socioeconomic backgrounds. The pattern of responses was consistent, overwhelming and widespread.

The vast majority of respondents felt their school was not ready to deliver NAPLAN Online.

Teachers also expressed concern that such testing cannot mutate into a de facto assessment of digital literacy, social background or resourcing but should be true to its original and stated diagnostic purpose.

Federation’s initial evaluation of responses from the profession show schools have vastly different capacities to conduct such high-stakes testing and there is nothing approximating equality of opportunity for students to do NAPLAN Online. Some of these problems arise from the conceptualisation of NAPLAN Online while other hurdles exist because of endemic inequalities in educational, socioeconomic and geographical circumstance.

Proceeding with NAPLAN Online would vastly exacerbate educational inequality in NSW. Responsible authorities need to commence real analysis of the needs of students from lower socioeconomic status areas, students with disabilities and students in regional NSW to identify and address the huge issues of inequality this evaluation has identified.

Federation’s final evaluation will be made public in Term 4.

The initial findings of Federation’s evaluation are consistent with the NSW Auditor-General’s recent Performance Audit Report on information and communication technology (ICT) in schools for teaching and learning:

  • The average age of devices in NSW schools is more than four years. Older devices are less reliable, require greater maintenance and support and cannot run demanding applications.
  • Many school wireless networks are beyond the end of their useful life and this limits the number of teachers and students who can access online content at the same time.
  • There is a growing gap in the provision of contemporary ICT between schools caused by differential access to funding sources.

NAPLAN Online already has huge and innate problems, including the spectre of introducing robot marking to extend student writing.

The Term 3 trial establishes that there are urgent problems in its logistical, technical and ethical framework, rendering it unfit for implementation in the foreseeable future.

Some of the difficulties arising during the testing process

  • Browser software problems
  • Inability to conduct bandwidth tests
  • Logging-on is slow and complex
  • Screen size varying between devices causing uneven legibility
  • Frozen screens
  • Inadequate regard for the specific needs of students with disabilities
  • Differential testing time caused by delays and technical failures
  • Constant dropouts
  • Limited school Wi Fi capacity
  • Students focussing on keyboard skill performance rather than the best answers
  • Disruptions to the test
  • Need to supply headphones to students
  • Lost earbuds
  • Use of different devices within and between schools causing great inequality of opportunity
  • Clatter of typing in the room was disruptive to some students
  • Widespread compatibility issues for technology
  • Disadvantaging of students without keyboard skills
  • Inadequacy of the ACARA server
  • Students going “off-task” when dropouts and problems arose
  • Difficulty in maintaining test authenticity as student attention could wander and confidentiality of responses was jeopardised
  • Significant safety issues as electrical cords often criss-crossed the testing spaces
  • Disparate technology
  • Failure of audio files

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