The National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is a misnomer. It should be called NAPLLLLAN because four of the five tests measure aspects of literacy, namely, reading, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and writing.
The one lonely exam that does not test literacy is the numeracy exam, half of which has traditionally been done without a calculator and half with. However, even this exam is going to lose much of its rigour, with calculators now being allowed in no less than 40 of 48 mathematics questions in the 2017 NAPLAN exam.
The suspicion that the removal of the mental calculations in mathematics suggests some form of social engineering, is increased by the covert manner in which this change has been introduced. There appears to be no announcement on the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) website with the only notice of the change (but no rationale), being provided on the NSW Educational Standards Authority (NESA) website.
A further concern is that these changes will be introduced into the Years 7 and 9 Numeracy exam, but not in the Years 3 and 5 exam. Therefore, the validity of tracking student improvement in numeracy is called into question.
At a time when Professor Michelle Simmons, in her 2017 Australia Day address, railed against the inappropriate feminisation of the HSC Physics exam. At a time when the Safe Schools Program is seen by some as transparent social engineering, the changes to the NAPLAN exam need to be better explained.
Much is at stake. The public reporting of NAPLAN performance can make or break a school. Educational authorities must get it right and ensure the NAPLAN exam adequately tests both streams of knowledge, the literacy/humanities stream and the numeracy/scientific stream.
Arguments that the use of calculators is appropriate because mobile phones with inbuilt calculators are now endemic in society, doesnt wash. If ACARA was being consistent with this argument, they would allow spell-check software to be used in the spelling test.
There is no doubt some defensive rhetoric will be served to justify the depowering of the NAPLAN mathematics exam but it is difficult to see how a reasonable person could not see the NAPLAN exam as largely a test of literacy.
Then there is the question of the management of this change. Secretive. Poorly explained. Muddled. The Australian public have every right to ask what is going on. It would also be helpful for teachers to know. In a few weeks time, they will have to administer the test.
Dr T F Hawkes
20 February 2017