Author Identifier

Angela Kelly

Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Education


School of Education

First Supervisor

Dawn Penney

Second Supervisor

Christine Ormond


In Western Australia (WA), all secondary students are required to demonstrate their readiness to leave school and enter further studies or the workplace by achieving a minimum standard of numeracy and literacy. This minimum standard can be demonstrated by passing one of two assessments, the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), an annual national assessment for all students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9; or, if not having reached a high enough standard on the NAPLAN Year 9 test, the Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA). The latter is high stakes test unique to WA which can be attempted in Years 10 through to 12. These two assessments are similar in that they both assess literacy and numeracy and share a common guiding set of standards, derived from the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) (McLean, Perkins, Tout, & Wyse, 2012).

This study investigated some ways that some mathematics teachers prepared their Year 10 students for the numeracy component of the OLNA. While the OLNA assesses numeracy skills rather than more conceptually oriented mathematical skills, the preparation of students for this assessment is the sole responsibility of mathematics teachers. The numeracy component of the OLNA comprises multiple-choice and short-answer worded questions that relate to real-life contexts. Students have 50 minutes to complete 45 questions, and the use of calculators is not permitted. Of importance, whilst previous NAPLAN papers are freely available to support NAPLAN preparation, mathematics teachers do not have access to previous OLNA assessments. They are however provided with an example test and a practice test through the School Curriculum and Standards Authority (SCSA) website. This limited transparency in assessment presents challenges for teachers seeking to prepare students for the OLNA.

The study into how the teachers in the study prepared their Year 10 students for the numeracy component of the OLNA was guided by the following two research questions:

1. When preparing students for the mandated OLNA numeracy component in their Year 10 classrooms, does the pedagogy of mathematics teachers change? And if so, in what ways?

2. As calculators are freely used in Western Australian mathematics classrooms, how do these teachers accommodate the calculator free nature of the OLNA assessment?

Peter Sullivan’s (2011) Six Key Principles for effective teaching of mathematics were used as the theoretical framework to inform data collection and analysis. These Principles, examined in detail, may be summarised by their headings as:

1. Articulating goals

2. Making connections

3. Fostering engagement

4. Differentiating challenges

5. Structuring lessons

6. Promoting fluency and transfer

The study used a case study methodology involving an educational assistant and four teachers across two school sites who were all directly involved in preparing students to take the OLNA. Documentary research, in-depth semi-structured interviews, and observations were used to generate data in a 2-week period that coincided with preparation for the OLNA.

The study’s findings suggest that pedagogies for preparing students for the OLNA are distinct in that much of the preparatory work is repetitive, completed independently, based on what the final assessment is expected to look like, and does not allow for the use of a calculator. Three of Sullivan’s Principles (1 and 6) – Articulating goals and Promoting fluency and transfer – were observed to be well represented in most OLNA preparation classes where there was a particular focus on independent work and repetitive exercises that attempted to mimic the OLNA assessment. In contrast, Principles 3 and 5 – Fostering engagement and Structuring lessons – were poorly represented in the data. These principles involved engagement in learning through collaboration, communication, and varied representation of mathematical content. The remaining two Principles, 2 and 5 - Making connections and Differentiating challenges, were present in varying degrees.

A key finding was that most of the participants said they felt ill-equipped to prepare their students for the OLNA. They struggled with not having access to the actual assessment, the support resources were perceived as unreliable, and feedback from past results was minimal. As classroom time needed to be divided between curriculum work and OLNA preparation, the teachers’ contact time was not equitably distributed between all the students, with “OLNA students” often receiving less curriculum instruction than “non-OLNA students.” In some instances, students preparing for the OLNA received no curriculum-focused teaching during that time.

It is of concern if the pedagogical principles that mathematics education researchers indicate should be present in a classroom for the effective teaching of mathematics, are not evident in OLNA preparation classes. The current research is limited in scope and duration due to the small sample size and the data collection time period, with only two sites studied immediately prior to a single round of OLNA testing. Nevertheless, this study has generated important agendas for future research in Western Australia and nationally into numeracy and mathematics teaching. Future research into the impacts of this high-stakes test on teacher and student wellbeing and on mathematics curriculum progression is recommended.