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NAPLAN no more: Why coronavirus disruption is already having a positive impact on Australia’s education system

Mathspace Founder and CEO Mohamad Jebara
Mathspace Founder and CEO Mohamad Jebara

The value and effectiveness of summative assessments like NAPLAN have long been debated by education experts in Australia. Now, the disruption caused by coronavirus is forcing a change in the way student learning and performance is measured.

Mohamad Jebara, CEO and Founder of Australia’s most advanced online mathematics platform Mathspace said this disruption was exactly the impetus the industry needed to improve and move away from redundant testing tools like NAPLAN.

 “I’ve long been a proponent of adopting a more formative approach to student assessment. While it’s too difficult to tell conclusively what educational impact the cancellation of NAPLAN will have given all the other factors COVID has brought on, I believe it has been a positive one.”

“The issue with our education system is that too much valuable time is spent preparing for assessments such as NAPLAN, which instead could be focused on learning and development.

“Teachers may have previously relied upon assessments like NAPLAN to give an objective indication of how students are performing. However, we’re seeing that coronavirus is sparking a change in the way teachers think about measuring student progress,” said Mr Jebara.

“While these changes are no doubt disruptive in the short term, they present a great opportunity to accelerate the move to data driven approaches in the classroom. This will see increased student ownership of learning, and increased flexibility for teachers to deliver a more personalised curriculum to students supported by transparency of data for parents.”

What exactly is Mathspace doing?

Paul Haras, Head of Mathematics at a Sydney high school, said that Mathspace provided teachers with the ability to extract rich data on an ongoing basis, accurately tracking the progress of each student.

“This is a key feature of the platform that is equally powerful when applied in a face-to-face context or remote context. Students respond favourably to the instant feedback Mathspace provides to them, frequently increasing their motivation to re-attempt problems where they did not achieve full marks.”

“An important and valuable aspect of incorporating Mathspace into the teaching program is the visibility it provides to parents. Mums and Dads can see instantly where their child is answering correctly or experiencing difficulty, providing that critical third link in the students’ learning: Teacher-Student-Parent. Mathspace enables remote learning to operate effectively and can, for many students, create a preferred learning mode for them,” concluded Mr Haras. 

Rather than focusing on summative assessments like NAPLAN, and ‘teaching to the test’, Mr Jebara hopes that with the help of Mathspace, maths teachers can focus on interactive lessons and teaching personalised classes that focus on the skills and struggles of students. 

“We built the platform to mark every step of a student’s working out. If they’re stuck, the platform provides a hint on how to get to the next step. It’s adaptive in that the questions get harder as students get the questions correct and they get easier if they struggle. This is all packaged into helpful data insights, giving teachers and parents an objective indication of student performance,” said Mr Jebara. 

New data from Mathspace shows evidence of just how widespread teaching to the test really is

In the month since NAPLAN was cancelled due to coronavirus, the amount of NAPLAN-related classwork assigned on Mathspace reduced by 94% nationally. This was despite Mathspace overall usage increasing by 46% over the same period.

Mr Jebara said this was a classic example of mandated top-down high stakes assessment getting in the way of real learning, and that while the findings were significant, they didn’t come as a huge surprise.

The Mathspace data has also revealed how Australia’s states and territories have responded to the cancellation of NAPLAN:

Mathspace is currently used by over 25% of high schools in Australia, and has helped millions of students in Australia, Hong Kong, and North America to become self-directed learners. The platform provides lessons, continuous assessment and reporting for years 3-12 in a cohesive, easy to use way that has proven to have a positive outcome on student learning and performance.

Mathspace does provide NAPLAN practice resources on its platform, however these resources go a step further than rote testing by offering personalised recommendations. This helps to transition teachers to a mastery-based learning approach. 

Mathspace is currently working on a new product that it hopes will get rid of NAPLAN for good. 

“We’re leveraging the years of data we have on how mathematical topics relate to each other and using machine learning techniques to build a highly efficient adaptive check-in process. This will allow students and teachers to check-in on their Math progress across the curriculum in what we hope will be just 10 minutes every couple of weeks,” concluded Mr Jebara. 

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