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NAPLAN: Robot marking of school tests scrapped by education ministers

NAPLAN: Robot marking of school tests scrapped by education ministers

“A controversial move towards “robot marking” of NAPLAN tests has been scrapped, the Education Council has confirmed.

Key points:

  • “Automated essay scoring” will not be used for marking of NAPLAN writing scripts
  • The national assessment authority ACARA had strongly argued for robot marking, insisting it was as reliable as humans
  • A prominent US academic had called for a halt to the plans, saying robot marking would reward “verbose gibberish”

English tasks were to be marked by computers this year, but the proposal caused rancour among teachers’ unions who launched a campaign against it.

Now, the Education Council, which is comprised of all state and territory education ministers, has announced the move towards automated essay scoring will be halted.

The decision was made in December but has only just been revealed in a statement from the council.

“In December 2017, the Education Council determined that automated essay scoring will not be used for the marking of NAPLAN writing scripts,” said South Australian Education Minister Susan Close, who is the Education Council’s chair.

“Any change to this position in the future will be informed by further research into automated essay scoring, and be made as a decision of the Education Council.”

The announcement is a blow to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which had strongly argued for robot marking, insisting it was as reliable as humans for narrative and persuasive writings tasks.

The NSW Teachers Federation last year commissioned a report from a prominent US expert on automated essay scoring.

What is NAPLAN and is it important?

  • The National Assessment Program tests the literacy and numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9
  • Students cannot pass or fail the assessment
  • The annual testing is designed to help governments and schools gauge whether students are meeting key educational outcomes
  • The results help identify strengths and address areas that need to be improved
  • Schools and parents can see how an individual student’s learning is tracking compared to their classmates and the national average

Retired professor Les Perelman said computers would reward “verbose gibberish” and could not properly assess creativity, poetry, irony or other more artistic uses of writing.

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes last year described automated essay scoring as “a direct attack on the teaching profession” and warned it had “no place” in NSW schools.

Before the Education Council’s announcement, ACARA had aimed to have fully automated marking and testing of NAPLAN English tasks by 2020.

The scrapping of robot marking comes as schools are transitioning away from pen-and-paper NAPLAN tests towards online tests.

That process has been difficult, with many schools lacking the technical infrastructure to support it.”

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