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A submission to the Council of Australian Governments' (COAG) review of NAPLAN by the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW Sydney recommends scrapping the current census approach to national testing and replacing it with sample testing of students across Australia. 

Director of the Gonski Institute for Education, Professor Adrian Piccoli, said there was little evidence the now 10-year-old NAPLAN had improved education outcomes for students.

“There is growing evidence NAPLAN is having a negative impact on schools, students and teachers,” said Professor Piccoli. “NAPLAN and the publishing of results on the My School website has imposed a high stakes dimension to student testing and this has led to increased student anxiety, teaching to the test and a narrowing of the curriculum.

“The Gonski Institute supports a national testing system so the performance of our education systems can be monitored, but we recommend a better approach.

“We want the current tests, where every student is tested in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, replaced with a sample-based test of students.

“This new approach would mean the publication of school-by-school results on the My School website will no longer be possible. As a result, the high stakes nature of the current national assessment program on both students and teachers would be dramatically reduced.”

The submission also recommends the design and implementation of a new national assessment system should be driven by the teaching profession.

Boston College Professor Andy Hargreaves, speaking at a recent Gonski Institute for Education symposium on the subject of NAPLAN, said similar tests around the world were facing the same scrutiny as NAPLAN.

“I have been involved in a number of reviews of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – the worldwide assessment of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries,” said Professor Hargreaves. “There is a drive to find new and better ways of assessing systems and students, without the unintended consequences of high stakes, large scale testing.” 

Professor Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Educational Policy at UNSW Sydney, said: “The consensus of those participating in the symposium was that the purpose of NAPLAN is not to rank schools. The assessment should be for use within schools for schools. It can be done in a way that still provides sound data and national reporting on system-level performance.”

Professor Piccoli said: “From a parent’s perspective, I agree that the current NAPLAN test provides some useful information, but I am convinced that the negative effects of the current system outweigh those benefits. There are much better ways than the current NAPLAN to provide accurate, timely and useful data back to parents about how they are performing at school.”

The submission was delivered to government today. Recommendations from the review are expected to be handed to COAG in June 2019.

The Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW Sydney aims to address growing inequality in Australian education as well and improve access for students to high-quality education wherever they may go to school.


From left: Dr Dennis Alonso (UNSW Sydney), Professor Andy Hargreaves (Boston College & ICSEI), Dr Rachel Wilson (University of Sydney), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (UNSW Sydney), Professor Adrian Piccoli (UNSW Sydney), Associate Professor Kim Schildkamp (University of Twente & ICSEI), Dr Courtenay Atwell (UNSW Sydney), Sheridan Dudley (ICSEI), Lila Mularczyk (UNSW Sydney).