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CW Innovation Awards: Transforming Australia’s national assessment programme

Education Services Australia has transformed the country’s national assessment programme through an online platform that has enabled teachers to design adaptive tests and improved student engagement

Since 2008, Australia has been running the National Assessment Programme, a standardised test conducted across the country to give schools and teachers a sense of how students fare in literacy and numeracy.

As a paper-based programme, there were logistical and resource challenges in producing test papers, sending them to remote areas of Australia and getting the papers to teachers for marking and scoring.

In addition, as every student gets the same set of questions, it was hard for teachers to ascertain the true ability of those who breezed through the test.

To address the challenges, Education Services Australia (ESA), a non-profit company collectively owned by education ministers in different states and territories, built a new assessment platform with the help of Janison, an Australian education technology provider, to transition the National Assessment Programme to an online adaptive test.

Dubbed Naplan Online, the assessment platform has enabled ESA to deliver standardised tests to schools across the country, along with adaptive capabilities where the questions posed to students are determined by their responses to earlier questions.

The scale and impact of the platform helped ESA clinch Public Sector Project of the Year in Computer Weekly’s Innovation Awards APAC 2022.

“As the test adapts, students generally stay with the test longer, and we get a better understanding of what their skills are,” said Andrew Smith, CEO of ESA. “It also enables students to be more engaged with the whole process of testing.”

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To deliver a seamless experience for students regardless of their location, device and ability, the assessment platform was designed to be easy to use. It also works offline, so that students in remote and regional schools can complete the tests without impediment or interruption.

Due to the sensitive nature of student data, it is crucial that the assessment platform meets rigorous privacy and security requirements. The platform complies with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Australian government’s Information Security Manual, and the ISO 27001 information security standard.

For educators, the faster turnaround of results from the platform’s automatic scoring and marking capabilities has allowed them to better tailor their lessons to student needs. They are also able to design adaptive tests that deliver targeted assessments, including the opportunity to broaden the range of skills and content being assessed, with increased measurement precision.

Significant upgrades

To ensure the project’s success, significant upgrades to school connectivity, local infrastructure and hardware were made to allow for the online delivery of tests. Administrators and teachers were also trained to administer and deliver online tests.

“Delivering the Naplan tests online has helped teachers be more comfortable with using technology,” said Smith. “It has increased their skills and improved much of the network and other hardware that schools have in order to be able to deliver the test.”

The full transition to Naplan Online was scheduled for 2021, but the impact of school closures in some Australian states and territories due to the Covid-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of a 2020 testing program, and a revised timeline to achieve full transition in 2022.

Despite the disruptions, the assessment platform was successfully delivered to 70% of Australian schools in May 2021, with about 800,000 students taking the online test last year. The project has progressed within approved budgets.

“We expect all students to come online in 2022 and that means we will have all students doing the same test under the same conditions,” said Smith.

“We won’t have that hybrid model of paper and online tests, which will be a significant step forward. This allows us to take further steps forward in terms of the nature of questions we use and the way we do our scoring.”

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