SUBJECT: Malcolm Turnbull’s NAPLAN debacle.

RICHARD GLOVER, PRESENTER: The NAPLAN test was already being criticised by some parents and some teachers. But now news that this year’s test has problems. Problems that have delayed the release of this year's result and which also mean that it will be difficult to compare scores across the country, which is part, of course, of the point of the test. Also perhaps difficult to compare scores across time, this year with past years, again part of the whole point of the test. The Minister, Simon Birmingham, is unable to speak to us this afternoon, but from the Opposition we are joined by Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of Labor of course and Shadow Education Minister. Good afternoon.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I can never pass up an opportunity of talking to you.
GLOVER: Of course. What seems to have gone wrong?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I can't really answer the technical details of that for the Government, but I know that the Labor state Education Ministers have been out in the media today saying they are very concerned about the fact that the online version of the test can't be properly compared with the written version of the test, which means, potentially, delays in releasing information to children and their parents about how they've gone in the tests. And it means potentially even when we have the information that it won't be a proper like-for-like comparison. So about 200,000 kids sat the test online, about a million kids sit the test every year. I think over time moving to an online testing environment is a good idea because it gives you more precise information about how kids are doing and it gives you that information more quickly, but we shouldn't be exposing kids as guinea pigs to getting these systems right and this stuff-up comes on top of Census debacle, the NBN rollout, the problems with eHealth, the new childcare system has been very difficult for parents, there's been a string of these kind-of implementation fails from the Government. They really do mean people have not much faith in the Government's ability to deliver this stuff.
GLOVER: We knew at the time didn't we that they were testing out this new system of doing it online, that about a fifth of the kids would do it online, the other four-fifths would do it with pen and paper. I think we all imagined though that the computer version would just be a mirror image of the pen and paper, which would give you a way of comparing the two groups. It now emerges that the computer system had a different capability. It was adaptive in the sense that if a kid did the test quickly and was showing himself or herself to be particularly clever, they would throw more difficult questions at that child. Now maybe that's a great idea, but then it's suddenly a different test to the pen and paper one, therefore they can't be compared like-to-like and they can't be compared with the past?
PLIBERSEK: Well that adaptive ability of the test will be an advantage over time, but there is no point in asking a kid to answer twenty questions when the kid gets nineteen of them wrong. The test has to be tailored for that child, so you know what does this child need help with. That's the whole purpose of this testing. What does this child need help with? Or is there an area that this school is letting its students down in? That's why we do these tests. And if you've got kids who standardly get 99 percent or 100 percent, you're not really learning much about that child's capability. If you get kids who are really struggling you're not really learning where they need the help. Over time it's the right idea, yep.
GLOVER: OK so in other words the adaptive test is a great idea.
PLIBERSEK: Over time.
GLOVER: How could they not have understood that it wouldn't be comparable?
PLIBERSEK: I don't think they did understand that. I mean, just a few weeks ago the Minister was saying that NAPLAN online was a roaring success, I think were his exact words and this was despite warning from teachers, from parents, from state school systems, that there were bugs in this. There were bugs in the original, actually just your flat-out ability to answer the tests on the computer. There are anomalies in- you know different schools have different numbers of computers. Some kids type faster because they've got more access to time on the computer than other kids. We do need to look at these things, and Labor is supportive of a broader review of NAPLAN, it's a test that is 10 years old. We do need to look at whether it is still meeting the purpose that we initially set it up to do.
GLOVER: Some people say look, this glitch aside, it should be scrapped anyway. They say teachers have been teaching to the test that it has left all the students stressed, that it is not really a very useful tool. Even our Liberal Education Minister Rob Stokes, he's pretty NAPLAN-neutral to be honest.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, and that's why I think it's a good time to have a look at the test. But we do need a way or, we probably don't need one way, we need several ways, of making sure that if kids are falling behind we catch that early. We need to make sure that if some schools are really terrifically strong in literacy but they're not really teaching maths as effectively as they should, that we pick that up about the school or the school system. These tests should-
GLOVER: Okay but do you then stop people teaching to the test and it almost dominating the whole term?
PLIBERSEK: Good teachers don't teach to the test. I know there's a lot of pressure on teachers, comes on to teachers. Part of that, I have to say, sadly, is from parents and particularly in New South Wales, that's because parents are worried about their kids getting into selective schools, so I should say to Rob Stokes, maybe have a look at selective schools and whether that's doing, the proliferation of them is great for kids-
GLOVER: To be fair to him he has come out and said he’s not going to open any more selective schools. He's quite worried about the selective school thing too.
PLIBERSEK: No no, I think that's quite right to look at it. And the next message of course is to parents, like deep breath, don't pass your stress on to your kids. I've got three kids too, they've all gone through this, my daughter is going through the HSC at the moment, keep your anxieties to yourself. Don't pass them on to your kids.
GLOVER: And talking about anxiety, the one thing I should stress probably and this is courtesy of Mark Scott, who runs the Department, he came on Breakfast and said yes look there are problems with the test and it's comparability between schools, between states, with the past, but he said in terms of the individual student, you will get a result and it will be a good result and it will tell you what your child knows and does not know which is the thing he can reassure parents about, that actual individual data will still be decent.
PLIBERSEK:  Yeah, which is great, but these tests do serve more than one purpose and I suppose my concern is it really undermines teachers' faith, parents' faith in the system when these sorts of glitches are thrown up. They feel like their kids are being used as guinea pigs, they feel like the transition wasn't thought through appropriately. Any delays mean a longer period before kids get the help they need.
GLOVER: Yeah. Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of Labor and of course Shadow Education Minister is here with me in the studio after this NAPLAN schmozzle and I must say ACARA themselves are saying 'oh there hasn't been any delay' but we're not hearing that from all the state Ministers and Departments. They're all saying look there has been a problem and we're now all trying to negotiate today when exactly this data will be released and in what form it can be released. George is on the line. Hi George.
CALLER: G'day.
GLOVER: Now you're a principal.
GLOVER: What's been your experience of all this?
CALLER: Look 12 months ago myself and many others identified that this would be an issue and asked the question directly of the authorities what are you going to do? How are you going to resolve this?  And the answer was we don't know but we're working on it. And that seems to still be the case which is a little bit disappointing.
GLOVER: It just seems on the face of it, if you've got two totally different tests with different kind of mechanics, that they're not going to be comparable - that seems obvious doesn't it?
CALLER: That's right, and look, they may have written the test questions so well that in fact they are, but without a test of the test, as it were, we simply don't know that.
GLOVER: Do you take Tanya Plibersek's point and, I guess, Simon Birmingham's point, that in the end the computer based one with this adaptability built into it might be the better system?
CALLER: Absolutely. A far superior product, very happy with the product, just don't think they've resolved this duality issue.
GLOVER: And is it, are you getting a bit of pressure from parents saying 'well where are the results?' and also from teachers who, in the best way, should be able to use these results to tell what they should be teaching this term?
CALLER: I've kept parents updated with when we're expecting results, so there's not been pressure there. Teachers are waiting for the data because the sooner we get it the sooner we can jump into helping the students based on their results, absolutely.
GLOVER: Which is the whole point okay. Hey, good on you George. Good luck with the school and all those kids you've got to look after.
CALLER: Thank you.
GLOVER: All right, there you go, there's George and Kerry, 1300 222 702 is the number. Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us. Thank you for coming in to the studio.
PLIBERSEK:  Always a pleasure.