Home Hybrid Learning The program helping students overcome test-related anxieties

The program helping students overcome test-related anxieties


The program helping students overcome test-related anxieties

Across Australia, many students begin to fall behind in their educational journey as early as Year 3, struggling to meet learning benchmarks.

To address this, an independent review into NAPLAN, launched in in 2020, called for the need to properly assess student achievement, arguing that testing should take place earlier in the year – a move designed to allow more time for teachers consider the results alongside their own assessments, and then use them to inform their teaching and learning programs.

Additionally, new proficiency standards were introduced, with four levels of achievement [Exceeding, Strong, Developing and Needs additional support], which replace the previous 10-band structure and the old national minimum standard set in 2008.

However, this overhauled system found one-third of West Australian students are failing to meet new proficiency standards in reading, writing and maths, with almost half in Year 3 falling short in grammar and punctuation.

Recognising that this trend cannot continue, two WA teachers, Carl Owen and Andrew Thomas, developed OLNA Support – a program to help senior students prepare for the Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE), and the teachers educating them.

To receive the WACE, high students in WA must first be assessed through the Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA) – the WA equivalent of the NSW Minimum Standards regime – Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment. The OLNA, a computer-based test assessing minimum literacy and numeracy standards, includes Writing, Reading, and Numeracy components, requiring students to meet standards in each, with up to six attempts until Year 12.

OLNA Support, currently used in more than 80 schools across the state with tailored practice materials, was based on diagnostic criteria from the School Curriculum and Standards Authority. The program provides more than 500 practice questions complete with detailed explanations and hints, fostering understanding and easing test-related anxieties.

Below, The Educator speaks to Owen and Thomas about integrating the program into the curriculum, measuring its impact, and involving teachers in its refinement.

TE: How is OLNA Support integrated into school curriculums, and what challenges and successes have schools encountered?

In 2014, our Deputy tasked us with getting this new “Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA) test thing sorted” so we looked at the test carefully and its impact on students. The year after, we designed a paper and pen teaching tool to help familiarise our students with the test conditions, timing requirements and create questions that were aligned to the diagnostic criteria, and it worked reasonably effectively but it was missing the online interactivity of the real assessment. In 2016, we converted our handouts and work booklets into a website called “OLNA Support” which was launched to the public to assist teachers and students in their preparation for the OLNA assessment. We were teachers dedicated to helping students, so we didn’t know anything about building a website or creating a product, but we learned a lot in those first few years because we stayed focused on our goal. Our goal was to prevent students from experiencing the same critical levels of extreme anxiety and fear of failure that our own students went through because they knew they must pass this assessment to achieve their West Australian Certificate of Education (WACE). We had eight schools in our first year, and now we support over 100 schools in 2024, including three international schools who offer WACE to their students. We saw a need in our education system, and we couldn’t stand by and watch it impact our students, so we created OLNA Support to help fix it.

TE: How do you track OLNA Support’s impact on student performance in OLNA assessments?

OLNA Support has provided over 45,000 students with direct feedback on their performance as the teaching tool is designed to provide detailed feedback for every question with full explanations for every answer across the three testing criteria. Every maths question has full working out attached and some answers even provide multiple working out options to aid student understanding. We have received longitudinal data from some schools which tracks student numbers in Years 10 to 12, which show a 95% reduction of students needing an account by the end of Year 12. This means 95% of students using the website have passed OLNA by Year 12 and we have very nearly achieved our goal of supporting those students through this challenging test. A handful of schools have been with us for eight years and many have been using us consistently for over six years and we have become a core component of their priority program to achieve 100% graduation.

TE: How has teacher feedback influenced OLNA Support’s development, and how are teachers involved in its refinement?

Being teachers ourselves, we are always receptive to constructive and positive feedback, as we know this is how you grow. Every year we adapt to teacher and student feedback and implement website upgrades driven from school requests to fine-tune the student and teacher experience. The Writing section of the website was an area that attracted a lot of teacher feedback and was not meeting student needs, so we sought an innovative solution and integrated an Automated Grading Software (AGS) developed by Remboint Pty Ltd into our Writing section of the website. Teachers wanted a snapshot of a student’s writing capability, and they knew they didn’t have the time to mark all of their students’ written responses, so we reached out to Rembiont and integrated their technology to provide a service that allows every student’s response to be marked with detailed feedback for the parent and teacher. We tailored the AGS specifically to the grading rubric for the writing section of OLNA, so that we have a highly specified tool that gives students high quality and instant feedback on their writing. The feedback from schools has been overwhelmingly positive. One of the school administrators using OLNA Support said; “I just wanted to comment about the Writing response feedback provided to students. The feature where students can submit their responses for immediate feedback is unbelievably awesome. Thanks so much for making my job so much easier.”

TE: What are the future plans for OLNA Support, and how do you ensure it remains accessible to all students?

Every year we consider ourselves very lucky to have an opportunity to support more students and schools across Western Australia and we are very grateful to work with so many dedicated schools, staff and administrators. We have a long list of upgrades we would love to achieve and many plans for improving the website by adding more content to keep the tests fresh and engaging. We have designed the website to target Level 3 of the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), so there will be a degree of compatibility with the Minimum Standards Test in NSW. We would like to work with and assist schools in NSW with their Minimum Standards Test and grow the website to cater for their learning needs. OLNA Support is always growing but we want to ensure we maintain an affordable, adaptable, and accessible solution to the stress of this sort of standardised testing.

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