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Queensland Victory College students prepping NAPLAN. Picture: Supplied.

What do the NAPLAN changes mean for teachers?

Schools will have to navigate the recent NAPLAN changes carefully if they want to take advantage of the new testing window and reduce the emphasis they have previously put on the test, an education expert has said.

This years NAPLAN testing window will move from May to March, reducing the previous 10 bands results system to four.

Senior researcher in teacher education at the Australian Catholic University, Jessica Holloway, said the new changes could be beneficial for teachers and schools.

"The new testing window definitely has the potential to reduce test prep time and therefore teaching to the test," Holloway said.

"However, there will be a risk that these new results will be taken as overgeneralizations about what students and teachers are doing.

"I'm afraid teachers will be once again taking the blame if students' results show a decline."

Holloway joined Education Review to discuss the NAPLAN changes.

ER: The testing window has been moved to term one, how will this impact test prep?

JH: When the test is so early in the school year, teachers won't necessarily have the time to prepare for it in the same way that they have previously and that's a good thing.

Some principals put a lot of pressure on teachers to make sure that they spend those first months doing test prep so that students are not only prepared with the test content but are also familiar with its format.

This can take away time from the curriculum and other educative matters.

Historically, across national contexts, when two main subjects like numeracy and literacy are tested, other content areas get sidelined.

With the test being in March, NAPLAN will be over early in the school year, which will give teachers more time to work on other content areas.

The concern that I have is does this actually then lead to prep having to be done in previous years, or would a grade two teacher need to be spending time on test preparation for year three?

If that comes with the caveat that we push test prep in the years prior, we might see a similar problem as we have previously.

Schools will have to be careful to not push back the test preparation and only use that first month for it.

How beneficial will it be for students and teachers to receive NAPLAN results early?

Having the results earlier is going to please a lot of people who have previously and rightfully said that teachers don't get test results early enough to actually action them within the same school year.

If teachers get those results earlier in the year, they can respond to those in a timely manner which will be beneficial to schools, students and teachers.

If students' results are not considered proficient and fall below achievement level, it gives the school an opportunity to think about what strategies they can put in place to support their students.

Schools can contemplate changing their pedagogy, hiring teachers' aids, and providing professional development or additional coaching.

It will be up to the school to decide what strategies they put in place, but it does at least offer the time they didn't previously have to do.

However, schools will need to be careful not to structure the entire rest of the year and base all their pedagogical and curriculum decisions to be only in response to NAPLAN test results.

With schools nationwide struggling to hire teachers, will they have the time and the resources to do that?

Regardless of what we do to tinker around the edges with NAPLAN,  schools are still in a moment where they don't have the resources needed in order to support students and teachers in the ways they want.

None of the recent changes announced by the government will change this. The government will not be able to provide the resources and supports necessary for any of these benefits to actually manifest.

This is a real concern that we need to keep pushing forward and making it clear that even with more time during the school year, it doesn’t give schools more money to hire new teacher aids, and coaches or more time to implement professional development.

How will the changes in how results are reported affect teachers and students?

With the ten bands, there was a lot of additional labour for teachers as they needed to help students and parents to interpret the results, which took away teaching time.

Reducing to four bands will simplify the results for parents and give them an easier understanding of where their kid currently stands.

However, sometimes simplifying things doesn't lead to better and we run the risk of missing the nuance that the ten bands provided.

There will be a risk that these new results will be taken as overgeneralizations about what students and teachers are doing.

A lot of experts are warning that the new achievement levels will show more students falling below proficiency, which is a huge concern.

Who’s going to take the blame for that?

History has shown us that teachers are always the first to be blamed. When things change or don't go as people expect, educators are blamed.

I'm afraid that these new achievement levels are going to do exactly that.

Teachers and schools operate in complex societal conditions and they can't mitigate all the effects that impact student achievement and performance on tests.

When none of those societal factors changes and all we change are the reporting of the data, what it will look like on paper is that teachers have failed.

That will be the discourse that they will be left having to bear.

Do you think there should be any other changes to NAPLAN testing?

Getting back to the purpose of  NAPLAN is always my recommendation.

We have been looking in detail at what this test says about students, teachers and schools rather than checking the temperature of the nation in literacy and numeracy, which was the original purpose.

When we scrutinise NAPLAN, we introduce confounding factors and biases that end up blaming teachers and schools for things that are outside of their control.

However, when we take a much broader look, in a census-level assessment, you can't blame individual teachers and schools, it becomes an issue with the system.

Going back to the basics would also eliminate teaching to the test.

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