Mackay North State School students during their NAPLAN tests.
Mackay North State School students during their NAPLAN tests. Lee Constable

Is NAPLAN turning our kids into bad writers?

THE NAPLAN writing test has been slammed by a leading education expert who calls it "absurd" and says that the structure of the test is turning Aussie kids into bad writers.

In his scathing review of the test, retired MIT Professor Les Perelman says the marking criteria is "bizarre" and prioritises high level vocabulary words instead of the formulation and structuring of ideas.

The damning evaluation ranks the test the least valid assessment program of about a dozen other international tests Dr Perelman has studied.

Alongside his review of the test Dr Perelman has released 'Dr Perelman's Guide to a Top Scoring NAPLAN Essay' which shows how easily the assessment marking structure can be beaten.

Pioneer State High School teacher Michelle Wollaston has taught in Mackay for more than 20 years and says the test is not an effective way to measure student achievement.

"It's not marking their original thinking nor those higher order thinking skills of designing, synthesising and evaluating," Mrs Wollaston said.

"The quality of their argument (in NAPLAN) is irrelevant as long as they have used their vocabulary words it's a good argument."

Mrs Wollaston says Dr Perelman's results prove that the NAPLAN system is flawed.

"The fact that the professor has been able to write a test guide so easily makes you question the quality of a test that can be so easily manipulated," she said.

Both Dr Perelman and Mrs Wollaston say the marking system is what fails students sitting the NAPLAN writing test.

Students who use words categorised as 'challenging' are given a higher weighting regardless if the sentence meaning could be better communicated using a more 'simple' word.

Mrs Wollaston says the test results are not a good example of how students are tracking.

"It's not actually a sign of how they are performing because (students) are not engaging," she said.

"What we are wanting to do is know is if our students are succeeding, in my opinion, the best status of that is to report on how many As, Bs, Cs, and Ds they have.

"We already report this and it gives a really good outcome of how our students are performing."

The way NAPLAN forces students to write has resulted in fewer students being engaged in writing says Mrs Wollaston.

"I think it is turning them off writing completely, our written results according to NAPLAN have decreased and students are not engaged with writing anymore.

"Now writing is a chore we don't even know what the test will be," she said.

"In order to beat the test there is a structure and they are becoming unable to write without this scaffolding, a lot of the flair is being lost from their writing."

Associate Professor in Literacies and Pedagogies Georgina Barton also says that the test's marking criteria has an effect on the writing abilities of students.

"NAPLAN writing is clearly formulaic and the marking criteria was developed to be objective and uniform- resulting in students being homogenous rather than critical authors.

"Writing should be creative, informed and, above all, enjoyable," she said.

 

The NAPLAN tests are seen as not being helpful by a leading expert.
The NAPLAN tests are seen as not being helpful by a leading expert. Contributed

DR PERELMAN'S GUIDE TO A TOP SCORING NAPLAN ESSAY

  • 1. Memorise the list of Difficult and Challenging Spelling Words and sprinkle them throughout the paper. Feel free to repeat them, and do not worry very much about the meaning.
  • 2. If you are not sure how to spell a word, do not use it.
  • 3. Repeat the language and ideas in the Writing Task throughout the paper.
  • 4. Begin at least one sentence with the structure, "Although x (sentence), y (sentence)." For example: "Although these instructions are stupid, they will produce a high mark on the NAPLAN essay."
  • 5. Master the five-paragraph form.
  • a) Have a minimum of four paragraphs, preferably five.
  • b) Each paragraph, except the last one, should have a minimum of four sentences. Do not worry about repeating ideas.
  • c) The first paragraph should end with your thesis sentence.
  • d) The next-to-last paragraph should modify your thesis sentence by taking the other side of the issue in special cases.
  • e) The last paragraph should begin with "In conclusion" and then repeat the thesis sentence from the first paragraph. Then just repeat two or three ideas from the other paragraphs.
  • 6. Increase your score on the "Audience" and "Persuasive Devices" categories by addressing the reader using "you" and ask questions. For example: "So you think you wouldn't mind writing a stupid essay?"
  • 7. Use connective (Velcro) words such as "Moreover," "However," "In addition", "On the other hand" at the beginning of sentences.
  • 8. Begin sentences with phrases such as "In my opinion", "I believe that", "I think that" etc.
  • 9. Repeat words and phrases throughout your paper.
  • 10. Employ the passive voice frequently throughout your paper.
  • 11. Use referential pronouns, such as "this", without a reference noun following it. For example, "This will make the marker think you are a coherent writer".
  • 12. Make arguments using forms such as "We all believe that we should do X" or "We all know that Y is harmful".
  • 13. Always have at least one, preferably two adjectives next to nouns. Thus, not "the dog" but the "frisky and playful dog".
  • 14. If you are writing a narrative essay, think quickly if there is a television program, movie, or story that you know that fits the requirements of the narrative writing task. If there is one use it as your narrative, embellishing it or changing it as much as you want. Markers are explicitly instructed to ignore if they recognise any stories or plots and mark the script on its own merits as if it was original.
  • 15. Never write like this except for essay tests like the NAPLAN.


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