Australia’s national testing authority has overhauled its approach to annual NAPLAN assessments because many of the country’s schools do not have adequate IT infrastructure in place to enable all candidate students to sit online exams at the same time.
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) earlier this year said it would shift the national benchmarking exams sat annually by year three, five, seven and nine students from paper to online, over a three year transition period from 2017.
ACARA said online tests would be cheaper to conduct and faster to mark, and would also enable new features such as tailored testing, which takes students through different branches of the same exam depending on their ongoing performance, giving greater accuracy to the skills assessment.
It is also planning to mark parts of the exam using cognitive computing technology, which has been ‘trained’ to mimic the assessment patterns of human teachers.
But some schools and academics responded to the news with concern they would not have enough computers or internet bandwidth to enable all candidate students to sit the test within the normal three-day timeframe.
As a result, ACARA today announced it would stretch the test period out to a fortnight to allow resources to be shared amongst a smaller pool of students at any given time.
“We are not expecting all students to do NAPLAN at the same time, or for schools to have one device for every student,” ACARA’s general manager of assessment and reporting Dr Stanley Rabinowitz said today.
“When NAPLAN moves online, we propose to extend the testing window from three days to two weeks so students will not be taking NAPLAN at the same time.”
ACARA also moved to hose down concerns that online testing will open up new avenues for students to cheat on the test.
It has not yet approved the use of BYOD computers for testing purposes, but said it is still investigating the issue.
“We will continue to work with schools, education departments and sector representatives to develop an appropriate policy around the use of personal devices,” Rabinowitz said.
It has released a list of approved operating systems, including iOS and Android-based tablets with minimum 9.5 inch screen and attached physical keyboards, that can be used to sit the test.
ACARA also said the test will require a locked-down browser or app to run, blocking students from using external websites, applications and spell-checking features during the tests.
“NAPLAN online will provide better assessment, more precise results and faster turnaround of information. Significant planning, development, research and trialling are going on behind the scenes to make sure we are all ready to move NAPLAN online,” the authority said in a statement.