During 2017-2018, I entered into an engaging and rewarding relationship with the New South Wales Teachers Federation critiquing the writing portion of the national NAPLAN test given to all 3rd, 5th, 7th, & 9th Year students. My goal and that of the Federation’s is not to abolish the test but to support a redesign that aligns what is now a reductive and poorly designed test with the richness of the Australian national curriculum.
I was first contacted by the Federation because of a unilateral initiative by the Federal Education Minister and Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) to replace human readers with computers. I was asked to write a report that responded to an ACARA report claiming computer marking on essays was both valid and reliable and to present the principal arguments why, with current technology, computers are incapable of such tasks.
I was then commissioned to write a report that first compared the NAPLAN Writing Task to similar Anglophone Writing Assessments, then critiqued certain unique and bizarre features of the NAPLAN writing assessment and grading criteria, and concluded with broad recommendations for a process to develop a new assessment that would encourage the teaching and practice of clear, effective, and intelligent writing in Australian schools.
In 2018 ACARA simultaneously administered an online test to 20% of the population that claimed to be Computer Adaptive Testing but was really a simpler, less precise, and much cheaper knock-off dubbed Tailored Testing. There were many issues with the actual implementation, beginning with apparent major mistakes in how the system adapted questions for the grammar and punctuation sections.
The New South Wales Teachers Federation asked me to quickly write a short report, which I accomplished with the help and guidance of Prof. Walter Haney of Boston College, an expert on this type of assessment.
My association with the New South Wales Teachers Federation has been one of my most rewarding professional associations. They are simultaneously an industrial union that protects the interests of their members as workers and a professional association sincerely committed to improving teaching and learning. I wish such organizations existed in the United States.