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Education expert calls for redesigned assessment to replace NAPLAN


Sharlene King, media office at Southern Cross University
9 May 2022

Professor Pasi Sahlberg of Southern Cross University says NAPLAN is outdated and in need of a compelling literacy and numeracy assessment alternative.

Considered a leading international expert on education systems, Professor Sahlberg works with governments around the world on better education reforms and improving teaching and learning in schools.

Debates about the validity of NAPLAN as the best way to assess literacy and numeracy for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 has dogged Australia’s national assessment since it was introduced in 2008.

"We should stop thinking that census-based standardised testing – that is, to test all students of the age cohort – is the best way to go and that it alone can drive school improvement and strengthen equity,” said Professor Sahlberg, a former director general of the Finnish education system.

“We need to co-design a comprehensive assessment system that better serves the diverse needs of students, schools, and parents.

"NAPLAN has become a controversial part of Australian school life, for teachers and parents. Whereas in many other countries, for example Scotland, Singapore, Finland and Canada, national assessments have moved away from high-stakes testing of basic knowledge as the sole metric of educational performance and put more emphasis on teacher-led assessments for broader learning.

“Australia is trailing the leading education nations with its outdated NAPLAN.

"The time is right for a redesigned national assessment system that combines sample-based national assessments with a modern program of classroom-based and school-led assessments. Research shows that it is teacher-led classroom assessment, and other school-based assessments, that hold the greatest potential for educational betterment for everyone," Professor Sahlberg said.

Professor Sahlberg’s comments come on the eve of NAPLAN 2022 as it transitions this year from online paper-based tests to computer-based assessments. The test window starts Tuesday 10 May and finishes on Friday 20 May 2022.

Last week MCERA hosted a briefing with Australia education experts about NAPLAN testing. Watch the recording of NAPLAN 2022 - where to from here?

  • Professor Pasi Sahlberg of Southern Cross University spoke to the need for a new way forward and offered a compelling alternative rather than repeat the criticism of NAPLAN we have heard before. View a copy of Pasi's presentation, and the report referred to.
  • Professor Jim Tognolini of University of Sydney discussed educational assessment and the application and appropriateness of current measurement models.
  • Associate Professor Karen Murcia from Curtin University spoke to NAPLAN as an online experience for young children.
  • Dr Lucinda McKnight from Deakin University talked about the gap between NAPLAN writing and good writing, drawing on her research as an ARC DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) Fellow. View Lucinda's presentation and an article on the role of formula in high stakes testing environments.

Based on an original media release by MCERA, the Media Centre for Education Research.