NAPLAN’s writing test is ‘bizarre’ but here’s how kids can get top marks
April 09, 2018 06:04:06
One of the world’s leading education experts says NAPLAN writing tests are absurd and are turning Australian children into bad writers.
- Retired professor Les Perelman has completed review of NAPLAN writing test
- He says it’s "by far the most absurd and the least valid of any test that I’ve seen"
- Dr Perelman also describes the test’s marking criteria as "bizarre"
Les Perelman, a retired professor from MIT University in the United States, has undertaken a comprehensive review of the writing test — and his conclusions are damning.
"It is one of the strangest writing tests I have ever seen," Dr Perelman said.
"When I first examined it, I just couldn’t believe it. It’s measuring all the wrong things. It doesn’t reward spelling correctly. It rewards using big words.
"It’s the worst one of the 10 or 12 of the international tests that I’ve studied in depth. It’s by far the most absurd and the least valid of any test that I’ve seen."
As part of his review, Dr Perelman even created a how-to for students who want top marks in their NAPLAN test.
The criticism comes as the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) revealed it was conducting a review of the writing test, which is taken by students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9.
"We will take Dr Perelman’s advice on board," ACARA’s chief executive Robert Randall said.
Last October, Dr Perelman was commissioned to conduct a review of ACARA’s planned automated essay-scoring known as "robot marking".
Marking criteria ‘bizarre’
Dr Perelman’s criticism centres on the weight given to spelling and punctuation over the communication of ideas.
Markers are given lists of words divided into categories including ‘simple’, ‘common’, ‘difficult’ and ‘challenging’, with extra points given for complex words.
For example, a student would be rewarded for using the word ‘demonstrate’ rather than a simpler word such as ‘show’.
Here’s a sample of the spelling reference list:
"The marking criteria in general I can only describe as bizarre," Dr Perelman said. "There should be no word lists. Students should use the best word to convey meaning.
"It’s the kind of thing that 60 years ago many of us experienced with spelling lists in elementary school, which had no bearing whatsoever on the ability to write.
"All of the generally accepted style guides in the English-speaking world argue that one should use the simplest, most precise language wherever possible.
"I think this test is actually turning students into bad writers."
Mr Randall, from ACARA, said it was far from clear that children were using unnecessarily complicated words in order to gain high marks.
"We want good plain English. But what we know is teachers are focussed on building and expanding the vocabulary of young people and getting them to use that in meaningful, constructive ways," he said.
"I accept his challenge, I don’t accept his conclusion. He’s posing a question and I think it warrants further examination."
NAPLAN focusses ‘on low-level skills’
In his report, commissioned for the NSW Teachers Federation, Dr Perelman compared NAPLAN’s writing tests with others around the world.
He described NAPLAN as "severely defective both in its design and its execution".
"Its focus on low-level skills causes it to de-emphasise the key components of effective communication," his report said. "It is reductive and anachronistic."
Dr Perelman’s report also said:
- There was a "complete lack of transparency" in the development of NAPLAN grading criteria
- Informational writing, the most common type of writing, was not assessed
- There was too much emphasis on spelling, punctuation, grammar, and paragraphing at the expense of "higher order writing skills"
- The spelling marking criteria was "as concerned with the presence and correct spelling of difficult and challenging words as it was with the absence of misspelled words"
- Material provided to markers on argument, text, and sentence structure was "trivial at best and incorrect at worst"
How to get top marks in a NAPLAN writing test
The renowned academic also completed a review in 2005 of America’s Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which is used to apply for college. His guide on how to ace the test in essay writing went viral.
The US body in charge of the SAT then removed the writing section and replaced it with one re-designed by Dr Perelman.
He has now developed a similar guide to getting top marks in a NAPLAN writing test for Australian students.
He’s calling it "Dr Perelman’s Guide to a Top Scoring NAPLAN Essay". He recommends children:
- Memorise ACARA’S list of challenging words and "sprinkle them throughout the paper". He goes on: "Feel free to repeat them and do not worry too much about the meaning"
- Master a formulaic, five-paragraph form of essay
- Use connective words and phrases such as "moreover", "however", "in addition" and "on the other hand"
- Always have adjectives next to nouns, for example "the frisky and playful dog", instead of just "the dog"
Dr Perelman ends the guide with: "Never write like this except for essay tests like the NAPLAN."
Here’s the full guide: