Wednesday, 1 May 2013

NAPLAN: Falling short of the international mark

Poor scores on an international literacy test show that the NAPLAN assessment may not have the depth--or the benchmarks--necessary to assess Australian schoolchildren in a competitive global economy. 

Results published by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) showed that more than one-quarter of the Australian Year 4 students who participated in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) failed to meet the minimum international benchmark. 

In contrast to PIRLS, the most recent round of NAPLAN results showed only nine per cent of Year 5 students did not meet the minimum national standard. The grey indicates students who are failing to meet the benchmark standard in literacy:

“I think everybody got a real shock when the [results] came out because...everyone assumed we’d probably do OK," said Sue Thomson, Head of Educational Monitoring and Research at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Although NAPLAN results raise no alarm, Australia's PIRLS scores nowhere near top. 
On the international PIRLS test, Australia’s average score was similar to the score for Bulgaria, New Zealand, Slovenia, Austria, Lithuania and Poland. And significantly lower than the average score for 21 other countries, including the United States, England and Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The same cohort of children took the two tests. So what is going on here?

There are three possible explanations: the NAPLAN standard is too low, PIRLS texts are more difficult, or PIRLS items are more challenging. All three appear to be true.

NAPLAN misses the international benchmark
“Almost everybody agrees that the NAPLAN standards are too low," said Dr Thomson. Even in sections where the two assessments are somewhat similar--for example, making inferences about fiction texts--students who are meeting the NAPLAN minimum are falling short of the international benchmark

A spokesperson for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA, who oversees NAPLAN) said that ACARA will "take account of international standards" when aligning the national assessment program to the national curriculum. ACARA also hopes that the Australian Curriculum, which is mid-way through its roll-out, "...will lead to improved results."

More in-depth texts
Teachers believe the longer PIRLS text turns students off. One Year 4 teacher explained, "They’re not used to read such long periods of text.”

While the PIRLS reader has only two stories that are nearly 800 words long, NAPLAN has seven stories, all less than 200 words.

There are two types of passages, informational and fiction. Readability stats show PIRLS informational texts are harder.

Interestingly, PIRLS fiction texts are slightly easier than the NAPLAN literacy texts. This, too, brings a sobering point: even with easier texts, fewer Australian students are meeting the international benchmark once the word count goes beyond five paragraphs.

Although the NAPLAN tests are about ten items longer, the additional questions are easier recall questions. PIRLS asks more higher-order questions about its fiction texts and has more open-ended items. 

Next step: Getting the results to principals
Dr Thomson is concerned that information on PIRLS results is not getting into the public arena.

At a DEEWR National Principal’s Conference in early March only ten out of 120 principals in the audience knew about the PIRLS results. This information needs to get to principals, teachers, parents and students in order for meaningful progress to occur.

Currently, international reading assessments have longer texts, harder non-fiction, deeper questions and higher benchmarks. If Australian students are to be held to a high international standard, NAPLAN needs to improve to world-class standards.

**The difficulties of test items on each NAPLAN scale are statistically calibrated so that performances  across year levels can be reported and compared on the same numerical scale. Source: ACR

No comments:

Post a Comment