'Tis the season to be cynical...

... ‘tis the season to be cynical...

Autumn seems to be later this year in Sydney. But when the leaves eventually do turn brown and begin to fall we will be reminded that NAPLAN is just around the corner.

Dr Les Perelman, a retired professor from MIT University, facetiously gives Australian teachers a how-to-guide to prepare their students to ace the upcoming NAPLAN writing test. But he forewarns: "Never write like this except for tests like NAPLAN."

His guide can be downloaded here.

Tell me, do teachers and leaders feel tempted/pressured/obligated to consider using such guides? Would you?

Without judging each other, have you found yourself teaching broadly from the curriculum - or narrowly to the test? (Do you feel like you even have that choice?)

Your perspectives are valued.

James Phelps

Teachers and leaders can dig deeper into this issue by examining today's Education article by Natasha Robinson from the ABC. Read below.

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NAPLAN's writing test is 'bizarre' but here's how kids can get top marks

One of the world's leading education experts says NAPLAN writing tests are absurd and are turning Australian children into bad writers.


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".

His review was critical, sparked concern among education ministers, and finally led to the scrapping of the plan.

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"

NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron said Dr Perelman's findings would not be a surprise to teachers.

"We should always remember NAPLAN was not designed by teachers, it was designed by politicians," he said.

"The NAPLAN writing test demands a form of writing that is very narrow in its scope, it requires narrow technical skills.

"We're doing a disservice to children if we put this forward as best practice in writing — it clearly isn't."  

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 replaced the writing section with a re-designed one.

Dr Perelman has now developed a similar guide to getting top marks in a NAPLAN writing test for Australian students.

He is 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."

Source (including full guide): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-09/naplan-writing-test-bizarre-heres-how-kids-can-get-top-marks/9625852?pfmredir=sm