26 September 2023

Indigenous questions the answer for fair exams

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The reading gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students could be narrowed by up to 50 per cent by making exam questions more culturally appropriate according to a new research project conducted by the Department of Education.

Announcing the research results, Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning, Sarah Mitchell said the trial by altering how exam questions were culturally phrased was conducted in partnership with the University of New South Wales’s (UNSW) and found questions that included local cultural context had a large impact on performance in standardised reading tests.

Ms Mitchell said the trial involved 1,135 Year 6 and Year 8 students in NSW’s Dubbo area.

She said half the students were randomly assigned to a control group that took a series of NAPLAN-style reading and numeracy tests, and the other half assigned to a treatment group that took culturally contextualised tests specifically written for the purpose by the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, the peak body for Aboriginal education in NSW.

Ms Mitchell said the treatment tests closely mimicked NAPLAN tests taken by the control group, but used items and language culturally and contextually relevant to students living in Dubbo.

“This research has shown that by changing the context of questions so that students can see their own lives and culture in test questions, we can lift performance significantly,” she said.

“That’s incredibly powerful for our indigenous, regional and culturally diverse students.”

Researcher at UNSW, Adrian Piccoli said teachers knew that local context mattered.

“Students want to see their own lives in the material they study and in the questions they are asked in tests,” Professor Piccoli said.

“If it is more interesting, then students are more engaged; this experiment helps to better understand that link,” he said.

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