Competing interests? NAPLAN and middle schooling assessment practices
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In Australia, the introduction of the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) in 2008 marked a national shift towards an accountability driven education agenda. Administered in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, the tests sit predominantly across the grades commonly known as the 'middle years'. Both advocates for and critics of NAPLAN note the potential of the test regime to impact on teaching and learning practices, especially as schools and systems strive to reach benchmarks. Coinciding with the introduction of NAPLAN testing, the nation experienced a renewed interest in middle years' curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices. This is evident in, for example, the Melbourne Declaration for Schooling (MCEETYA, 2008) which advocates the need for appropriate educational practices in the middle years to ensure optimal learning outcomes for young Australians. Among the practices is a call for authentic and reflective assessment with high expectations, evidenced by higher order thinking challenges. It is within this context that this study of the 2009 NAPLAN test instruments of the literacy domain for Years 5, 7 and 9 was undertaken. Utilising Bloom's Revised Taxonomy as the analytic framework, each test item was assessed to determine the cognitive complexity of the item. The analysis reveals that less than 10% of questions in the reading tasks afforded the cognitive challenge of higher order thinking, and hence the interests of middle years' education and NAPLAN testing might offer some tension in our education system. This paper presents a snapshot in time of a NAPLAN test and raises questions about the degree to which it contributes to the goal of increasing the cognitive challenge of learning and assessment practices in the middle years. It is argued that the NAPLAN test be understood to be one insight into student achievement, but not the only or full story reflecting student capabilities and that the utility of the results be employed in this knowledge and not be seen as a panacea for reforming the education system.
Australian Journal of Middle Schooling
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Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified