Census-based NAPLAN tests would be replaced under the recommendations from the Gonski Institute for Education.

Australia needs a new national assessment system rather than reforms to the current NAPLAN system, according to a new report from the Gonski Institute for Education.

A new report released today from the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW Sydney recommends scrapping the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) for a new National Assessment System that puts students’ interests first.

Putting Students First: Moving on from NAPLAN to a new educational assessment system recommends significant changes to national assessments, including scrapping the current census approach to testing and replacing it with sample-based testing of students across Australia, led by teachers.

Rethinking national assessment

Pasi Sahlberg

The report proposes a hybrid National Assessment System be developed to address teaching and learning, parent reporting and monitoring purposes. The system would help address the negative well-being consequences to some students of too much pressure to compete in standardised tests, particularly at young ages.

With the rolling out of NAPLAN to schools this week, it’s time to rethink what kind of national assessment system Australia needs, says Professor Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education at UNSW Sydney.

“To improve educational performance in Australia, students, schools, parents, and governments need better information about how students and their schools are performing. However, using a single test like the current NAPLAN cannot serve all of these different purposes equally well,” Prof. Sahlberg says.

A key recommendation is to replace the current multi-purpose census-based literacy and numeracy testing in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 with sample-based assessments in Years 4, 6, 8 and 10 to better monitor education system performance, complemented by formative teacher-led assessments in schools to inform students, schools and parents about students’ performance and growth.

The report also recommends different types of assessments for student, school and parental information purposes with sample-based standardised tests for governments’ system monitoring and accountability purposes. Parents would receive better information about their children’s learning performance across multiple curriculum areas as part of the sweeping recommendations.

The sample-based assessment method, which is used in many other countries, allows governments to monitor education system performance without the often harmful side effects of census-based tests to students and schools. It is also more cost-effective, allowing governments to shift resources from testing to support teaching and learning in schools, the report says.

“Ultimately, education systems are designed to serve students, yet student needs and experiences are not often part of ‘the logic’ of educational systems and their designs. We started with the needs of students and then built our national assessment model from that starting point,” says lead author University of Sydney Associate Professor Rachel Wilson.

Putting students’ interests first

The report also reviewed international case studies from the leading education systems in Canada, Scotland, Singapore and Finland to further inform the recommendations for a new assessment system.

“International experience suggests that many leading education systems are shifting away from high-stakes census-based tests towards assessment systems that integrate sample-based tests used for policy-making purposes and teacher-led assessments to support teaching and learning. This gives more accurate information about educational progress and issues that require improvement,” Prof. Sahlberg says.

The new national assessment system would also include more regular and detailed reporting to parents through a validated, formative classroom-based Assessment Resource System (ARS), including a national library of quality assessment tasks for Year 3 through Year 10 that are linked to the curriculum and the teaching in schools. This would improve the information to parents about their child’s learning and growth at school according to national standards and benchmarks.

These assessment resources can be used by teachers at a time they choose, and results can be presented to parents in a visual and accessible format. This would allow better reporting of students’ performance in a broader range of knowledge, skills and competencies over time than NAPLAN.

This article is an introduction by the Gonski Institute of Education (14 May 2021) to a full report, available here: Putting Students First: Moving on from NAPLAN to a new educational assessment system

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