'Preposterous': NSW rules out NAPLAN robo marking

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes has ruled out allowing computers to mark NAPLAN writing tasks, warning it is "preposterous" to suggest machines could do a better job than humans and described it as a "direct attack on the teaching profession".

Mr Stokes revealed his staunch opposition to computer marking of writing tests ahead of Friday's federal Education Council meeting when ministers will consider plans by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) to introduce robo marking next year.

ACARA has said NAPLAN writing tasks completed online in 2018 would be marked by a person as well as an automated scoring system.

An ACARA report, released in late 2015, said a "significant body of literature confirmed that automated essay scoring met or surpassed the quality of human markers" but Mr Stokes said he was opposed to that argument.

"I have been unconvinced by ACARA's explanation of the benefits of robo markers," Mr Stokes said.

"The more I talk to a range of people, the more I realise this is a big issue across all sectors and unions and it gets a strong, visceral reaction across the board."

Mr Stokes said a move to robo marking "misunderstood the power of marking because teachers learn from marking".

"Robo marking has no place in NSW schools and I can't foresee a future where there will be an increase in machines marking something as deeply personal as writing."

He said there was an argument for robo marking of multiple choice questions but not beyond that.

"Any further machine marking is a direct attack on the teaching profession," Mr Stokes said.

In October, the NSW Teachers Federation released research it commissioned from a leading US education academic who warned it would be "extremely foolish" and even damaging to student learning if NAPLAN writing tests were marked by computers.

Les Perelman, an internationally renowned expert in writing assessment from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said an ACARA report on automated marking of NAPLAN was "so methodologically flawed and so massively incomplete" that it could not be used to justify any computer marking of NAPLAN.

Dr Perelman's review said a major failing of the ACARA report was that it "completely ignores" any research that was critical of automated essay scoring.

"Until these critical studies are completed and carefully evaluated, it would be extremely foolish and possibly damaging to student learning to institute machine grading of the NAPLAN essay, including dual grading by a machine and a human marker," Dr Perelman's report said.

Schools are moving to NAPLAN tests online but ministers have agreed to extend the timeline for all schools to transition online to 2020. All year 3 students will do NAPLAN writing tasks with pencil and paper regardless of when their school moves online.

Mr Stokes said only a "clear minority" of NSW public schools would sit the tests online next year. He said he was concerned about the publication of NAPLAN results on the MySchool website because the data would not be comparable.

"It will not be comparing apples with apples because some tests will be done online and some will be done with pen and paper," Mr Stokes said.

"I would want to see an appropriate disclaimer for the public so they understand the data was collected differently."

This story 'Preposterous': NSW rules out NAPLAN robo marking first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.