Call to Review Security of NAPLAN Tests to Stop Cheating

Security arrangements for this week’s national literacy and numeracy tests are inadequate to stop schools cheating according to the public education advocacy group, Save Our Schools. National Convenor of SOS, Trevor Cobbold, called on the Federal Education Minister to set up a review to improve security of the NAPLAN tests to stop cheating.

“Australia is going down the path of making it too easy for schools to cheat on their test results because of inadequate security in the adminstration of NAPLAN.

“Some NAPLAN co-ordinators and teachers in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT have told Save Our Schools that the security arrangements for NAPLAN are totally inadequate to stop cheating. There are many opportunities for cheating.

“Test booklets are delivered to schools a week or 10 days beforehand and there is little to stop an unethical principal or test co-ordinator from opening them and alerting teachers about questions to practice in their class.

“Tests are mostly supervised alone by teachers in the classroom and there is no monitoring to stop teachers helping their students with answers.

“There are also ample opportunities available after the tests are taken to change answers or fill in unanswered questions by students. Last week, the President of the NSW Secondary Principals Council said that the lack of independent supervision of tests made it impossible to stop alteration of answers.

“All these practices are now common in England and the United States where schools are ranked on test performance. Earlier this year, one of the largests cheating scandals ever in the US was uncovered in the state of Georgia where 191 schools are under investigation for tampering with test answers and another 178 schools are subject to increased monitoring of their tests.”

Mr. Cobbold said that My School and the publication of school league tables is putting immense pressure on school principals and teachers to increase school test results.

“My School is now a maker and breaker of school reputations and careers. Rising test scores may put a principal on the path to higher promotion and a salary well into six figures. Conversely, bad scores can mean unfavourable assessments and may even cost principals their jobs, as Julia Gillard has threatened several times. She has also called on parents to confront teachers on poor test results.

“In this environment, the pressure on principals and teachers to improve their school’s test scores will be intense. It would not be surprising if many took the easy way to improving their class and school test scores, as many have done overseas under similar pressures.”

Mr. Cobbold called on the Federal Education Minister to establish a review of the security and auditing arrangements for NAPLAN.

“A full review is needed to ensure the integrity of NAPLAN and that school results published on My School are not inflated by cheating.

“A review could look at several options to improve test security.

“For example, computer scanning for erasures of answers on tests is now a common practice is some US states in response to major cheating scandals. Some states also send testing monitors into schools.

“At the very least, teachers should not be permitted to supervise tests for their own students. Teaches should be randomly rotated to different classrooms for the tests. However, the stakes are now so high that the only real solution to stop cheating is independent supervision of the tests as is done with Year 12 exams, and as called for by the NSW Secondary Principals Council.

“A further step is to review state laws to make it unlawful to tamper with NAPLAN tests or help others cheat on them and provide for fines, dismissal or other sanctions.

“Overseas experience shows that cheating by schools to raise test scores is a very real danger. The Education Minister must act to stop cheating on the NAPLAN tests before it gets out of hand”.

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