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Thu, 17 Nov 2022

NAPLAN not remotely working

Image: Daniele Nabissi

James Cook University researchers say NAPLAN is a bad fit for many remote schools and forces a focus on a curriculum conceived in a context very different from life in a remote community.

JCU’s Karen Cornelius has spent more than 30 years as a teacher, principal and school leader – often in remote areas. She says the link between postcode and probable school success is well recognised.

“For Australia, this means that the further a school is from a city’s CBD, the wider the educational gaps. The persistence of rural and remote students’ generally lower educational outcomes in comparison to those of metropolitan students is well-researched,” she said.

The researchers recounted their experience in an unnamed school catering for pre-schoolers to Year 12, 900 kilometres from any significant city, set in an arid landscape and with a history of continuous Indigenous occupation by intersecting language groups.

“One per cent of the students are in the highest socio-educational quartile and 80 per cent are in the lowest. Ninety per cent of the primary student cohort were reading below or well-below age expectations. The secondary students’ data looked similar.

“An illustration of the complexity teachers faced can be seen in an example of a Year 8 teacher’s description of her class, in which 16 of 24 could not read what she wrote on the board,” said Ms Cornelius.

She said the federal National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing of students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 began in 2008, to track student achievement against national minimum standards.

“NAPLAN is used to compare students’ performance between schools. But in comparing Indigenous and remote students’ performance against national outcomes, scant attention is paid to the context from which the data is obtained,” said Ms Cornelius.

She said teachers are trying to balance increasingly standardised approaches with the need for contextually relevant learning.

Ms Cornelius said there were remarkable tales of achievement outside of the NAPLAN curriculum.

“Key to these successes, alongside targeted instruction, positive teacher relationships, Indigenous support officers and attention to relevance in the learning, were narratives of strength connected to aspiration and future choices. But individual success stories are not captured in whole school or NAPLAN data.”

She said schools were explicitly told new processes left no space for wellbeing goals, to the extent there was an active discouragement of attention to wellbeing.

“Many teachers recognised that a lot of effort was going into revision of concepts well beyond most students’ capacity. Teachers acquiesced to the pressure from outside officers to improve NAPLAN results, abandoning previously successful practices to drill the test content they expected students to face,” said Ms Cornelius.

She said NAPLAN testing is not a straightforward measure of student success in remote contexts.

“We suggest ways forward including attention to context and student wellbeing, broader and individualised measures of success and more recognition that young learners are not the sum of their data.

“They, and their teachers, are individuals with diverse lived socio-cultural experiences that require more community-connected and inclusive experiences than current standardised approaches offer,” said Ms Cornelius.

Link to paper here.


Ms Karen Cornelius
E: karen.cornelius@my.jcu.edu.au