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Janison sets online assessment record with NAPLAN delivery, gears for growth

In May 2021, 800,000 school students completed their NAPLAN tests online. Janison’s digital assessment platform had over 3 million tests completed in a two-week period, and at the peak, more than 195,000 students were being tested concurrently., with more than 32,000 transactions a second.

This represents a new benchmark for Janison which began the rollout of the online version of the test in 2017, and establishes an Australian and global lead in online schools assessment.

It was an acid test of the Microsoft-Azure based digital platform developed by Janison, which came through with flying colours.

For Janison, an Australian business with a 20-year global reputation for its educational technology solutions, it was the result of solid planning, an uncompromising approach to performance, security and accessibility.

NAPLAN is the annual nationwide measure of schoolchildren in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, which provides parents, teachers, schools and education agencies with a measure of students’ literacy and numeracy skills.

According to the Minister for Education and Youth, Alan Tudge; “For many parents the NAPLAN results provide the clearest indicator to how their child is going at school.

“NAPLAN Online provides better assessment, more precise results and once all schools are online a faster turnaround of information, benefitting students, teachers and parents.”

Starting in 2017, Janison has been progressively supporting NAPLAN testing moving online, and this year 70 per cent of students sat the test online. For 2022 there are plans to lift that to 100 per cent – and Janison is now optimising the platform so that it will accommodate even larger increases in users seamlessly.

George Gorman, Janison’s chief technology officer, who has been identified as one of Australia’s top technology leaders by CIO magazine, says that the Janison’s Insights platform which is used to deliver NAPLAN Online is the best of breed for high stakes, high volume assessments with zero tolerance for failure, and is used internationally for 10 million assessments in more than 120 countries.

Besides the Insights platform that Janison supplies to Education Services Australia (ESA) for NAPLAN Online, Janison offers its own K-12 assessment and benchmarking products, Reach and the world-class ICAS competition, under its ICAS Assessments business unit, as well as the PISA for Schools tests, for which it is the national service provider for the OECD in several countries.  The PISA for Schools test, which Janison delivers using Insights, is used extensively by OECD countries to gain deep learning insights about its students, allowing them to benchmark and build better education frameworks.

At the time of publication, online research indicated that the scale of the NAPLAN Online 2021 event was the largest in the world for an online schools assessment.

According to Gorman, when it comes to NAPLAN Online there are three inviolable rules for the underlying digital platform which has to deliver a seamless experience for students in high-stakes, high-volume assessments; “The first is performance. The second is security. And the third is equity of the test for the student, no matter their location or ability.”

For students that means they are able to sit the test using any equipment, wherever they are based, and have the same sort of experience as any other student, without any interruptions or glitches.

Student engaging in remote learning
Janison has developed a high performance, secure and accessible testing platform for NAPLAN Online using Microsoft Azure, to deliver an innovative online testing platform.

That outcome demands Janison operates like a military operation with extensive planning, intensive testing and zero tolerance for defects, over its 3 million lines of code.

Gorman explains; “When you’re dealing with such scale – 3 million tests, 800,000 students in a two-week period, you’re achieving peak usage of over 195,000 concurrent students, with, 32,000 transactions a second…there is no room for error.

“There’s only a few businesses that can deal at that scale and there’s only a few partners who have infrastructure that can perform at that magnitude. Performance is key for us, so the student is not seeing any lag, any latency in their questions and responses no matter where they are in Australia. Our job is to avoid adding any anxiety to the student during the high stakes event. We want the technology to be seamless.

“That’s all about having zero tolerance for even the smallest imperfections.”

Blueprint for success

Janison starts its planning for each NAPLAN Online testing period at least 12 months out, and begins its own testing six months before the event.

“We’re not quite NASA in terms of sending people to space, but we have zero tolerance for failure, because even the smallest failures at that scale become really big, fast,” says Gorman.

That means that we needed a cloud partner with the same level of professionalism and levels of quality, that’s why we work with Microsoft.

Janison works with Microsoft engineers, architects, and partners to continually improve the performance of the platform using .NET, Azure SQL DB and Service Fabric. Janison is now also looking to leverage Microsoft’s NoSQL solution Cosmos DB, to tune the platform’s performance even further.

After six months’ rigorous systems testing, when the schools’ NAPLAN sitting window actually gets underway, Janison sets up open channels with Microsoft engineers, and with its security partner Imperva, with all three organisations triggering a hyper support model, where alerts and notifications are actioned real time by allocated dedicated engineers.

Portrait image of George Gorman
George Gorman, Chief Technology Officer, Janison

The security of the system is paramount as Janison’s Insights platform is GDPR compliant, meeting European standards, compliant with the Australian Government’s Information Security Manual, and certified for ISO 27001.

This exacting planning and meticulous monitoring pays off; in 2021 NAPLAN Online became the largest online schools assessment ever run world-wide, breaking all records, and considered by all parties to be an amazing success.

Gorman adds; “We have made Microsoft Azure cloud services our race course and build our Insights platform to be the best race car for that course. And that means we’ve built for Azure, using.NET, AZURE SQL DB and Service Fabric, and we are always improving and tuning, including adopting Cosmos DB in the near future.

“We’re probably using 80 per cent Microsoft tools, because I truly believe you build the race car for the race course.”

Big country, big commitment

One of the imperatives for a national schools test is equity of access. It’s an especially big challenge in as big a country as Australia with a dispersed population.

Gorman says; “When you’re dealing with 800,000 students in Australia, you’re dealing with people who are in Alice Springs, Broome, Sydney, Townsville, all over Australia. Rural and regional, their bandwidth is at different levels, the technology available in that school is of differing quality, and different configurations.

“You’re dealing with multiple types of desktop, laptop, tablet, multiple types of operating systems, iOS, Android, Windows. You’re dealing with multiple browsers. All of these things are not in your control as a provider of the service. However to provide equity of test we need to be consistent across all of it, so that a student, no matter where they are in Australia, has the same experience when doing that test.

That’s a critical piece for us and why we developed a low and no bandwidth solution that works as well in a Sydney school as it does in an outback school, or for that matter in Siberia or the Amazon as we also deliver assessments in Russia and Brazil.

Janison’s ‘low and no bandwidth’ solution is a test player that continues to run the test even if the school’s internet or network connection drops out, and then will sync back after the test when the network connection can be restored, all whilst securely storing the test encrypted to assure its validity. It gives the student an uninterrupted, distraction-free experience no matter the connectivity – essential for rural and regional school children facing a test scenario.

Accessibility is also a priority, and NAPLAN Online has been designed for students with multiple accessibility challenges.  Janison has leveraged some of the accessibility features of Microsoft’s platforms, and Gorman says he is keen to learn how artificial intelligence could provide even more support to the accessibility needs of students in the future.

The overarching requirement however is that the platform continues to operate, and perform well throughout the exam period. To ensure that there are no inadvertent problems, Janison alerts Microsoft engineers to the NAPLAN schedule.

Performance is also enhanced by Janison being able to use Azure instances in multiple locations in Australia which keeps any latency issues to a bare minimum.

Male teacher assisting two students in a classroom
Azure’s scaling capabilities were another key reason for Janison choosing it as a cloud partner, enabling the use of its technology on a global scale.

For Janison’s other global customers, the international footprint of Azure means that it can offer similar high performance, low latency testing services around the world.

Azure’s scaling capabilities were another key reason for Janison choosing it as a cloud partner. In Australia the roll-out of NAPLAN Online has been expanding consistently – and Janison is prepared already for next year.

“We didn’t test just a little bit above, so that we knew we could just run it. We tested so far above that we knew that it would be seamless. So, our existing solution can handle twice the global record achieved for NAPLAN 21, even though there’s only going to be a 30 per cent increase needed for NAPLAN 22 to get to 100 per cent,” says Gorman.

Primed for growth and a bright future

The global reach of Azure is a natural ally for Janison’s growth ambitions. “Being best of breed when it comes to high stakes, high volume assessments, and the depth of data insights, benchmarking and overall versatility of Janison’s Insights platform which integrates with a number of learning management systems (LMS) including Janison’s own Academy LMS has meant that Janison has grown rapidly over the last two years, partnering with education and professional accreditation bodies globally and so we needed a partner who can help us grow rapidly and has a global cloud centre presence”, says Gorman.

“PISA for Schools is a perfect example of the future for assessments, no longer is it enough to get a score, you need to get the insights and trends to inform your next learning steps, to know how that score relates to other students of the same age who have had differing influences.  The OECD’s PISA for Schools gives those deep insights that allow education bodies, schools and parents the insights to grow their students, and that’s why we are very excited to work with them in a number of countries,” says Gorman.

Essentially, insights are essential to helping develop a learner’s next steps, and core to everything that Janison does.

David Caspari, Janison’s Chief Executive Officer, says: “The NAPLAN Online project has involved extraordinary commitment and ingenuity over a number of years from a close-knit technical and engineering team at Janison. They’ve been part of something that will become part of national history when it comes to education.

“Our very first talks about transforming the pen-and-paper NAPLAN into an online test actually began a decade ago. Government departments had the imagination to entrust a then-small organisation as Janison with work of this magnitude.

“It’s been incredible to watch as NAPLAN Online 2021 has grown to a scale where it has set a new national record and, more importantly, delivers a smooth and seamless experience for schoolchildren across Australia on test day.”