Unsworth, L., Cope, J. & Nicholls, L. (2019). Multimodal literacy and large-scale literacy tests: Curriculum relevance and responsibility. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy,42(2), 128-139. Australia: Australian Literacy Educators' Association Ltd.
An educational chasm divides the Australian National Curriculum, which is permeated with detailed requirements for students to develop multimodal literacy, and the very substantially mono-modal literacy of the reading tests of the Australian National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). This paper proposes that mandated centralised large-scale testing approaches to literacy assessment, such as NAPLAN, need to be re-thought and reformed to be consistent with curriculum requirements in relation to multimodal literacy and with the multimodal nature of international tests such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and, most importantly, to influence and support teachers in ensuring that students acquire essential multimodal literacy competencies in the twenty-first century. This paper firstly demonstrates that the interaction of language and image in multimodal texts are integral to the nature of the multimodal literacy that is increasingly needed to negotiate the vast majority of texts we encounter in all domains of our lives, and are reflected in national curriculum documents. Secondly, analyses of international tests such as TIMSS and PISA show the significant proportion of assessment items that specifically address images and image-language relations for correct responses to test items. Thirdly, we provide analyses of the NAPLAN reading tests from 2008-2016, showing the minimal proportion of test items that deal with images and image-language relations. NAPLAN results contrast markedly with the former NSW Basic Skills Tests (BST), which show a significantly higher proportion of test items that dealt with image-language interaction. Fourthly, we reiterate that the paucity of attention to images in NAPLAN demonstrates that this mandated national literacy assessment does not assess multimodal literacy.
This signals a strong need for re-thinking and reforming of NAPLAN, and similar large-scale literacy tests so that assessment approaches will more effectively contribute to enhancing the students' multimodal literacy development. Implications of the paper for supportive action by administrators, teachers and researchers towards such reform are briefly noted.
Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education
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