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Expert calls for rethink of NAPLAN results

USQ senior lecturer in the School of Teacher Education and Early Childhood Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts, Dr Stewart Riddle is an expert in the area of NAPLAN research and said while he wasn't against testing, he did feel the test was an inaccurate way of measuring school and student success.
USQ senior lecturer in the School of Teacher Education and Early Childhood Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts, Dr Stewart Riddle is an expert in the area of NAPLAN research and said while he wasn't against testing, he did feel the test was an inaccurate way of measuring school and student success.

MANY schools now rely on this national test to gauge student and teacher success, but one expert is calling on change to the way society views NAPLAN results.

The 2017 National Assessment Program- Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results were released earlier this month and have once again prompted questions regarding various schools' and students' performances around the country.

USQ senior lecturer in the School of Teacher Education and Early Childhood Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts, Dr Stewart Riddle is an expert in the area of NAPLAN research and said while he wasn't against testing, felt the test was an inaccurate way of measuring school and student success.

"The problem with the test is that when you look at averages, you might have some children who do really well and some who do really badly, but an average doesn't reflect that,” Dr Riddle said.

"The good performers will mask those struggling, so it's not helpful, particularly when you're talking about a small school compared to a larger school.

"For example, if you are making comments on the average of 14 students as opposed to 120 students, the results of one student can make a big difference.

"All you need is one student to be super bright and you have a skewed data set.”

Dr Riddle said there were a number of issues regarding the construction of NAPLAN which had been documented in various research studies, as well as problems with the limited number of questions for each section.

"We have found big issues because there are only 48 questions, which is too small to give much of a picture or for measuring a person's capacity for intelligence, so all it really tells you is how they did with those 48 questions,” Dr Riddle said.

"Even that is a problem because if the student doesn't know, then they will usually guess or they might just have misunderstood a question and got it wrong, so it's not because they couldn't do it, but because they made a mistake.

"An error margin is therefore introduced and even in the technical reports ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) put out, they actually admit they know that roughly 10% of time they got their results wrong.

"When you think about that, it means roughly 100,000 students' results are wrong each year yet none of that makes its way into mainstream reporting because it doesn't make as good a story as comparing schools' results.”

Despite two senate enquiries and numerous research to suggest NAPLAN doesn't work, Dr Riddle said schools continued to use the test results as a guide to drive their teaching practice and as a way of marketing themselves to potential students.

"The reason why schools want to do well in NAPLAN is because they can promote themselves and without fail every single school I have looked at, among the top three objectives in their strategic plan was to improve their NAPLAN results, so it's entered the language of how we judge a school as doing well,” Dr Riddle said.

"The My School website uses the index of community socio-educational advantage (ICSEA) indicator which basically takes into account the parents' income, social backgrounds and cranks out a score based on averages, so anything below 1000 shows various levels of disadvantage.

"Buried in their own technical reports however, it shows that up to 78% of the difference in NAPLAN scores in schools is attributed to ICSEA, so that means more than 3/4 of the difference in results has nothing to do with what's actually going on in the schools.

So how do parents find out how their kids are faring at school? Dr Riddle said it was as simple as having a chat with their children's teacher.

"The best way to measure a student's level is by getting feedback from their classroom teacher because they are constantly conducting assessment and making observations,” he said.

"Parents should therefore go and talk to the teachers and if they have any concerns about the teacher, then they should speak to the school, not rely on NAPLAN.

"In short it is a very expensive, mostly useless exercise that doesn't do anything helpful.”

The 2017 NAPLAN results are yet to be released on the My School website.

Topics:  dr stewart riddle icsea my school naplan 2017 naplan results usq springfield


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