The National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy, more often referred to as NAPLAN, has been under increasing scrutiny since announcing the decision to move online. When compounded by differing opinions in the media, concerns from parents and criticism from wider educational communities, there was plenty of pressure to ensure things went as smoothly as possible this year.
From the perspective of one of the first schools in Queensland to participate in NAPLAN testing online, it went really well. In this post, I asked staff and students to offer some reflections in relation to their experiences with the online test and make considerations for the future of digital testing.
Why Test Online?
Among the benefits of online NAPLAN tests, ACARA (Australia's Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority), highlighted more precise results and a faster turn-around of information. The online platform also allows the introduction of reactive "tailored testing", which makes student questions easier or harder as they progress through the test. Teaching and Learning Coordinator, Kate Frewin, explains how this could be beneficial in saying:
The biggest advantage for us is the tailored testing which will show us what our students can do, not what they can’t. We look forward to analysing the improved data that NAPLAN Online will bring.
The video above explains Tailored Testing in greater detail.
A common concern about online testing was that students would get a little trigger happy and just click through questions without really thinking about them. This would especially be the case if the questions became too difficult. ACARA argued that the ability to tailor test questions as the students progressed would result in greater and prolonged engagement. Year 5 teacher, Megan Ellis, stated that this was an initial concern for her but went on to say that it was something they explicitly discussed with the students before the test. In her feedback, Megan reported positively in relation to student engagement:
The majority of the students actually said they enjoyed it. The tests were definitely more visually stimulating than previous years.
The students appeared to be on task and there was little required interaction with them once they got started.
Technical Readiness and Requirements
From an ICT Manager’s perspective, and as it is with most things, adequate strategic planning, preparation and testing is required to ensure a smooth run. The main things to consider are internet connectivity (LAN or wireless), devices (BYOD vs school-owned), venue (shared hall or classrooms).
- Emmanuel Edem, IT Manager
It was pretty easy to do the test (on the computer). I knew how to go forward and back. It wasn't hard to figure out how it worked.
- Year 5 Student
Staff and Student Readiness
There was a certain amount of stress among classroom teachers, who were conducting the test. From their computers, they would have to control, troubleshoot and monitor the test as it progressed. Students also needed to understand how they would be accessing the test, which involved inputting individual identification codes into the platform and conducting audio tests. Practice test windows were highly valuable in preparing staff and students.
As NAPLAN coordinator on the Primary Campus, Kate Frewin was able to provide insight into the preparation of staff and students:
There was a small amount of training involved. Coordinators were trained by ISQ and QCAA staff. We then trained the teachers administering the test at a school level. This was followed by a student preparation stage which was relatively simple and fast. This involved familiarising our students with the NAPLAN Portal. We were extremely impressed by how adaptive our students were.
Teacher Observations and Reflections
I was unexpectedly happy with the whole process. I thought it was going to be far more painful than it was. When we had a technical problem it was easily solved and there were no major hiccups. I liked that it was paperless and that once the kids finished the tests, that was the end of it for the teachers.
- Samantha Hutton, Year 5 Teacher
I was impressed with the quality of work our students achieved during the delivery of the test online. Our dedicated teachers worked extremely hard at ensuring our students were familiar with the platform and that they understood their responsibility to pace themselves the same as they would during the paper version and not get ‘click-crazy’.
- Kate Frewin, Teaching and Learning Coordinator
It ran very smoothly. Preparation is definitely the key. I think that using College devices meant that we had much fewer connectivity issues but it did mean that we had sessions running for the whole 9 days as we couldn’t run many concurrent sessions.
- Wendy Jurss, Director of Teaching and Learning
Thoughts on Typing Vs Hand-written
Year 3 teacher Robyn Behr is of the opinion that the writing test should remain hand-written in year 3:
- I think by year three, their writing is a skill that has moved into ‘auto pilot’ mode. This means that the only thing they need to be concentrating on is developing their ideas and remembering how to format their work. If they were to type their ideas I don’t think their true potential would be seen as their main focus would be on their typing skills and not on their content.
If this is to be the future of NAPLAN and other external assessments, schools are going to have to very seriously consider their technology integration in the primary years, which is severely lacking in many right now. Insufficient exposure to technology tools could potentially hamper student ability to perform to their full potential in online testing. This is not a case against teaching handwriting or a call to replace books and pencils in schools with devices. Fundamentals are important and always will be. Similarly, this is also not the only reason for improved technology integration in schools and is in fact a very small part of the argument*. Nevertheless it remains a consideration that I encourage schools to consider as we move towards the full implementation of NAPLAN online.
*Further discussion on the typing vs hand-written debate can be found in a previous blog post here.
The Age of Digital Texts
There were six pieces of reading (each one at a different level) and students received them in random order. Some got the hardest piece first. For those confident readers the order was not an issue but for those students whose reading is average or below average it would have been very off-putting and potentially detrimental to their results.