From the Director of Assessment, Reporting and Curriculum 7 March 2018

Bill Weigall, Director of Assessment, Reporting and Curriculum

Bill Weigall, Director of Assessment, Reporting and Curriculum

As NAPLAN Online approaches, a small but very focused team has been working with me to ensure that Radford is well prepared. Last week, Tracey Markovic and I attended an information session conducted by Ken Gordon from the ACT Department of Education and Training (DET). It was pleasing to hear Ken reaffirm our understanding that NAPLAN is supposed to measure student progress through the wider curriculum and should not be something that is the subject of intense preparation or student stress.

Tracey, in her role as Assistant Head of the Junior School, will co-ordinate the testing of Year 3 and Year 5 students, while I will be responsible for the testing of Year 7 and Year 9 students. We are both working with Chernor Bah, from our IT Helpdesk team, and Lisa Plenty, our Director of Digital Learning and Innovation, to ensure that our systems are ready for the challenge.

Of course, the ACT DET have an even more intimidating logistical challenge ahead of them, with every school in the jurisdiction undertaking NAPLAN at the same time. To test the capacity of the regional and national infrastructure they have asked that we undertake a practice test with as many Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 students as possible. That test would ideally take place at 10.30 am on the morning of March 23. Within a week, parents and carers of students in those year groups will be receiving details of what that will look like at Radford. The actual tests are scheduled for Week 3 of Term 2.

While our focus is necessarily on logistics in the run up to the testing, we are also mindful of the national debate around the testing. Like many parents and educators, I am relieved that the Year 3 writing task will be done on paper, for this year at least. Similarly, we are cautiously optimistic about the potential of the adaptive nature of the digital test to more accurately measure student capacity in the various domains. The prospect of being able to access results in digital form within 2–3 weeks of testing is also appealing, because the data will be more relevant for teachers preparing to teach the students in Semester 2. There is much to be hopeful about.

Having said that, some of you may be aware of concerns about NAPLAN reported by ABC News Online. Natasha Robinson and her numerous contributors argued that the NAPLAN Data, while useful for informing targeted teaching of students, was utterly inappropriate as a basis for creating league tables or as an evaluation of the efficacy of schools. When the “similar schools” from the “My School” site are compared purely on the basis of the index of community socio-educational advantage or ICSEA rating, ignoring the nature of the schools themselves, this is a compelling argument. Given that many of the schools compared to Radford are academically selective, and often single sex, the variables are evident and must limit the value of the comparisons. Our ATAR performance, measured over two years of student work, is more compelling evidence of the overall success of our academic program but NAPLAN can give us some indications of areas for focus en-route.

Even more strident criticisms of NAPLAN, and all standardised testing, can be found in a recent edition of Education HQ. Sarah Duggan’s piece cites increasing concern from academics who believe that such testing regimes actually result in a decrease in academic standards because they divert resources from genuine education to shallow test preparation.

World Class Learners CoverYong Zhao, a Chinese professor of education, now based in the US, argued, at the last International Baccalaureate Conference, that western nations were becoming obsessed with standardised testing instead of focusing on the genuine and traditional strengths of creative and critical thinking. He has expanded on this theme in his book "World Class Learners" which some of you may find an interesting read.

While Australia is a participant in such testing, I contend that there is real value in Radford’s current position, of using the data as a snapshot of information that can complement internal school assessments and inform decisions about how best to shape teaching to suit each student. To that end, teachers in the Secondary School at Radford will spend the final day of Term 2 examining the data available to them, as they plan and modify their programs for Semester 2. Teachers in the Junior School will also consider the data as part of their ongoing focus on using data to inform teaching and learning.

Should you have any questions about assessment data of any sort from Radford, I would welcome a conversation and can be reached on bill.weigall@radford.act.edu.au

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