NAPLAN Online: Rage against the machine

A meeting of Education Ministers in December will be asked to approve the NAPLAN test moving to an online format in 2019. The proposal is being driven by the curriculum authority, ACARA.

After much discussion at a national level and in every Branch, the AEU is unanimous in opposing the shift to NAPLAN Online.

The concern of the teaching profession is that moving the test online will further exacerbate the existing problems with Australia’s testing regime. We are concerned that it will reinforce inequity faced by students from lower socio-economic, regional and remote communities, and distort the curriculum by forcing young children to focus on developing ICT proficiency to complete the test, at the expense of developing core skills like reading and writing.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the online shift is ACARA’s intention that students’ written work would be marked by computers. ACARA first proposed this in a paper in 2015, and claims that robots can mark students’ work as well as teachers.

The AEU NSW Branch commissioned Les Perelman, an expert from Boston’s prestigious MIT, to critique robot-marking. Perelman found that there are deep methodological flaws with the approach, because a robot has no capacity for human reasoning. Some of his key criticisms are:

  • That robots can only detect low grade attributes of writing;
  • That robots cannot detect “the most important elements of a text”;
  • That the ACARA “Report” uses evidence and data selectively and poorly;
  • That ACARA ignores any authority critical of robot marking;
  • That robots and humans should not be used in conjunction in marking;
  • That even robots as grammar checkers are seriously flawed;
  • That overseas evidence shows robot marking discriminating against some social groups;
  • That introducing robots will encourage regressive teaching practices.

Our Branch Executive has formally registered its opposition to NAPLAN Online, and conveyed our position to the Education Minister, Eva Lawler. We will shortly write to the Minister formally requesting that she, along with the other state and territory ministers, reject the proposal to move the NAPLAN test online in 2019.

Further reading
AEU NT Branch Executive resolution regarding NAPLAN Online
Les Perelman, Automated Essay Scoring and NAPLAN: A Summary Report