ACARA news, September 2014

ACARA head faces some tough questions

26 September 2014

ACARA CEO Rob Randall is no stranger to being drilled by media, tackling tough questions about everything from NAPLAN to My School, but a question posed by a reporter from The Australian Education Times proved one of his toughest.

‘Many kids and young adults have no idea what they want to do, what advice can you give our readers to help decide what path to take?’ asked 10-year-old reporter Pari.

Along with her co-reporter Hannah, also 10, the pair interviewed Rob for an article in The Australian Education Times. This was only the second interview the pair had done, and despite initial nerves, presented themselves clearly and articulately.

‘I was excited to do the interview,’ Pari said. ‘I was quite nervous at the start, but after time, I was less nervous,’ Hannah added.

Hannah, an aspiring architect, shares Rob’s passion for mathematics and said she hopes to one day attend Macquarie University, as ‘my dad works there’.

Rob’s advice to readers about future career paths was to think about where their interests lay. ‘I would say to your readers to think about the things they like doing and practice those, as they are the things you become good at,’ he said.

Despite the curly questions, Rob said it was great to see the initiative taken by the reporters, and the confidence and public speaking skills they possessed.

‘It was inspiring to see Pari and Hannah being so professional in the interview, and going “off script” to make their own comments and ask their own questions,’ he said.


Tailored test design is sound, feasible and more engaging

25 September 2014

Key findings from the research, completed by ACARA and funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, have revealed that the tailored test design – a key concept in the move to online assessment – is sound, feasible and more engaging for students.

The research also found that as many as 50 per cent of students will have an enhanced assessment experience, particularly high- and low-achieving students.

As students concluded the trials of online tailored test design, they reported feeling more positive and accomplished, regardless of their abilities and educational background. The trials also provided an opportunity for students to be assessed by tests catering to their needs and provided more accurate and timely diagnostic information about student learning needs.

ACARA General Manager, Assessment and Reporting, Dr Stanley Rabinowitz, said today, ‘The tailored test design and online assessment in general have been proven effective in the NAPLAN context.’

Visit the National Assessment Program (NAP) website to read:

  • the research paper
  • the summary of the research paper
  • more about the research program
  • more about tailored test design

Read ACARA's media statement (pdf 93 kb)

Read the media release from The Hon Christopher Pyne, Minister for Education.


20140924 Tailored test design

tailored test design


Statement from ACARA Chairman: The importance of an Australian Curriculum

19 September 2014

Australia is a relatively small country despite its geographic size. Education is important to the economic and social wellbeing of all Australians and, in an increasingly globalised world, it is important to work collaboratively across the nation to establish what we want young people to learn and be able to do. Education ministers agreed on that in the Melbourne Declaration and the Australian Curriculum is delivering it.

From the beginning, education ministers agreed that there could be different implementation schedules according to state and territory needs and resources, but all have now implemented English, mathematics, science and history to Year 10. For the most recently finalised curricula to Year 10, education ministers agreed not to move to formal endorsement until the Australian Government’s commissioned review was completed, but agreed that the curricula could be made available on the Australian Curriculum website for those states and territories that wanted to prepare for implementation from 2015.

Professor Barry McGaw AO
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

Online trials come to a close

19 September 2014

ACARA has been undertaking a range of research activities to look at the feasibility and practicality of delivering NAPLAN tests in an online environment. Online trials in almost 270 schools across the country to finalise the targeting of the test design and its branching mechanism have now concluded.

At the end of four weeks, more than 1050 test sessions were held in 262 schools – with a total of 39 686 tests being completed. These included 12 758 tests in numeracy, 12 984 in reading, 12 534 in grammar and punctuation, and 1410 spelling tests delivered using audio files.

Schools from all sectors around the country, from metropolitan, regional and remote areas, took part in the trials. At the end of each day, ACARA monitored and evaluated data session logs, test invigilator reports and reports from the help desk. The test delivery system performed well, with no system issues or downtime.

‘Online assessment has the potential to increase the level of student participation,’ says program manager Julie-Anne Justus.

‘Students who are travelling or have special needs may find it easier to participate in online assessment than in paper tests.’

The number of students tested within a school ranged from two students in one year level to 191 students in one year level. The largest number of tests completed by students at a single school was 1062. On the busiest day of the trial, more than 3350 tests were completed in numeracy, reading, grammar and punctuation, and spelling.

A small number of schools will continue to work with ACARA’s research contractors into Term 4 to complete cognitive interviews focusing on students’ engagement with difficult items and technically enhanced items.

Data from the trial are now being prepared for analysis, and ACARA is working to prepare the reports for schools for distribution in Term 4. Reports on the trials will be provided to the ACARA Board in 2015.

Teaching children to save lives

17 September 2014

Today at North Cottesloe Primary School, Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, joined Triple Zero hero, five-year-old Ethan Ribiero and his classmates, to launch the Triple Zero Kids Challenge Teachers Guide.

The guide is a resource for teachers of students in Prep, and Grade 1 and 2 to accompany the successful Triple Zero Kids Challenge online game and is an initiative of the Triple Zero Awareness Working Group, a national forum representing emergency services across Australia.

Read Teaching children to save lives media release

'Meet and Greet' with Wolfram Mathematica

16 September 2014

On Thursday 18 September ACARA will be hosting a Wolfram Mathematica Language User ‘Meet and Greet’ for key technology stakeholders.

This ‘Meet and Greet’ is a follow-up to discussions Wolfram has had with ACARA over the past few months and is important to ACARA for two reasons: first, to better understand business expectations for STEM education outcomes; and second, to build stakeholder engagement with key business contacts.

The agenda will include an introduction and welcome from ACARA CEO Rob Randall, followed by a short talk by Luci Ellis from the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Statement from the Chairman, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)

11 September 2014

ACARA has a productive relationship with the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) and values its contribution to the education debate. However, I am disappointed that in this case APPA has chosen to selectively choose quotes from me and then collectively use them to infer support from me for the conclusion in its paper that NAPLAN is high-stakes and the proposal that NAPLAN data should be removed from My School.

I have been clear in many statements that I consider NAPLAN not to be a high-stakes assessment. It is certainly low-stakes for students, since results do not determine destinies such as access to particular types of schools or educational programs. I have pointed out that the stakes for schools are higher now that results are published on My School, but noted as well that the comparisons provided on My School are exclusively among schools with students from similar levels of socio-educational advantage. Schools that are doing much less well than others with students from similar levels of advantage should not have that information hidden from parents and students.

I reject statements in the APPA report that imply I support the conclusions of their paper.

Professor Barry McGaw AO
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

ACARA’s response to APPA’s My School – NAPLAN Discussion Paper

11 September 2014

Today the Australian Primary Principals Association released a report, My School – NAPLAN Discussion Paper.

Robert Randall, ACARA Chief Executive Officer, said today, 'We welcome APPA’s support for NAPLAN, but disagree with the paper’s conclusions. Reporting NAPLAN on My School is done responsibly and accurately. We take care to compare similar schools with similar students and provide additional information and context to aid interpretation. My School is valued by parents and it is just one tool that assists them to make decisions about their child’s schooling. Transparency is key to education reform. Removing nationally comparable data from My School would weaken transparency and accountability. The reporting of information on My School only becomes problematic when NAPLAN is not kept in perspective as a tool providing a national snapshot of how students are going in the important areas of literacy and numeracy. ACARA will continue to work with jurisdictions to ensure that NAPLAN is placed in its correct context.

We also disagree that NAPLAN is high-stakes. For testing to be high-stakes, it must have a direct influence on important outcomes for individuals or institutions. In some countries, there are high-stakes tests at various points in schooling that determine which kind of school students move to for the next year. In Australia, high-stakes testing for students occurs at the end of secondary education, where results have a strong influence on post-school opportunities. NAPLAN plays no such role. The stakes for schools may be higher due to publication on My School but only where the site reveals that a school is doing much less well than others with students from the same level of socio-educational advantage. If that is the case, parents and students have a right to know, and a right to know what is being done about it.'

Online trials reach Tennant Creek in NT

09 September 2014

ACARA is committed to ensuring a wide cross-section of the educational school community is represented in the online trials which are currently taking place across the country. These trials will conclude at the end of this week and are being held to finalise the targeting of the NAPLAN online test design and its branching mechanism; that is, the way students are directed to certain sets of questions based on their demonstrated abilities.

With the permission of test administration authorities in NSW and NT, ACARA has worked directly with a number of small and remote schools, where teachers have successfully administered the tests to students without the assistance of ACARA’s contracted invigilators. In the third week of the trial, program manager Julie-Anne Justus visited Tennant Creek Primary School, which is located 500 km north of Alice Springs, NT. Around 40 students in Years 3 and 5 participated in the trial of reading, grammar and punctuation, and numeracy tests.

‘We are committed to developing tests that are accessible and engaging to all students,’ Julie-Anne says. ‘I felt very privileged to see how children at different levels of learning reacted to the tests presented online. Analysis of the data will tell us more, but watching the students take the test and seeing their responses and engagement with the test was a powerful experience'.

At the end of the third week of trials, 763 test sessions have been held in 187 schools – amounting to 28 424 tests completions. Of these, 9117 were in numeracy, 9281 reading, 8990 grammar and punctuation, and 1036 spelling tests delivered using audio files.

Online safety in the Australian Curriculum

08 September 2014

As children access online technology from an increasingly early age, the Australian Curriculum covers online safety from Foundation year. As they progress through their schooling, students learn how to recognise online bullying and harassment, how to apply online protocols and recognise and respond safely to inappropriate online content through the Australian Curriculum for health and physical education and digital technologies.

The Australian Government’s cybersafety and cybersecurity education program Cybersmart offers free online and offline professional development for teachers and internet safety awareness presentations for teachers, students and parents provided by Australia’s leading cybersafety experts.

Dr Jennifer Buckingham: Using school data wisely

05 September 2014

This week in education policy the spotlight has been on the appropriate use of performance data.

Two new reports questioned the validity of looking to East Asian school systems for guidance on Australian schools policy purely on the basis that those systems perform well in international assessments.

In his report, Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?, Dr Yong Zhao pointed to cultural traditions and historical policies as factors in the success of Shanghai, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), including high rates of tutoring and excessive exam preparation.

At the same time, a study of PISA test scores of immigrant students found that students from Chinese backgrounds in Australian and New Zealand schools had higher mean maths scores than their counterparts in high-performing Shanghai. The authors of the study interpret this as indicating that cultural factors are an important influence on test scores.

These reports provide support for the argument that caution must be exercised when comparing the performance of countries and drawing conclusions about policy.

Also this week, every school in Australia received its results in the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, and parents received their children's results. These tests provide schools with detailed data on literacy and numeracy performance that allow teachers to evaluate their practices. They provide parents with information about their child's literacy and numeracy against school and state benchmarks.

The publication of school-level performance data on the My School website provides transparency and public accountability. The federal government had signalled concerns about the use of NAPLAN data to compare schools prior to the Senate inquiry into NAPLAN and My School. Thankfully, the government has announced that it will not be making any significant changes to the way data is published on the My School website. This decision is the right one.

The publication of educational performance data, whether it is PISA or NAPLAN, is overwhelmingly positive. It adds to the range of information that can be used to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of students, schools and school systems in core knowledge and skills. It becomes problematic only when it is not kept in perspective and when inappropriate analyses and comparisons are made.

While PISA data are useful, simplistic country rankings are not meaningful-especially when the comparisons do not consider significant changes in participation and demography. Likewise, while NAPLAN and My School have limitations, they are an important part of the picture of student and school performance. The key is to use them wisely.

Dr Jennifer Buckingham is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Online trials: Close to 20 000 online tests have been held across Australia

04 September 2014

Between 18 August and 12 September this year, 300 schools are taking part in a study to finalise the targeting of the test design and its branching mechanism; that is, the way students are directed to certain sets of questions based on their demonstrated abilities.

As week 2 ended, online trials had taken place in 123 schools in each state and territory. Five hundred test sessions held in schools have delivered 19 291 test completions.

Students have completed 6105 tests in numeracy; 6276 tests in reading; and 6069 tests in grammar and punctuation. In South Australia
841 spelling tests using audio files have also been completed. Testing continues to run in schools with no major test delivery system issues being detected to date.