David de Carvalho, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), breaks down NAPLAN data, with a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
On 4 September we recognised Indigenous Literacy Day, a day for celebrating Indigenous culture, stories, language and literacy, as well as promoting access to literacy resources in remote communities.
Literacy and numeracy are essential foundational skills for success in life, and increasing the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students meeting the national minimum standard in NAPLAN tests is an important goal for everyone involved in education.
Since NAPLAN commenced in 2008, results have shown some positive improvements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
The most recent national results data from 2018 show that since the first year of NAPLAN, there were significant cumulative gains in a number of domains and year levels, including reading (Years 3 and 5), spelling (Years 3 and 5), and grammar and punctuation (Years 3, 5, 7 and 9).
Nationally, the average gain over time in reading for Year 5 in 2016, and Year 7 in 2018 was 53 score points for Indigenous students and 40 score points for non-Indigenous students.
Overall, the rate of growth in literacy and numeracy achievement among Indigenous students is double that of non-Indigenous students.
These gains are to be welcomed, and students, families, communities and teachers who have achieved these gains over time should be congratulated.
However, a lot more needs to be done. Using NAPLAN data, a recent Grattan Institute report showed that at the national level, Year 9 Indigenous students are on average three years behind non-Indigenous students in numeracy, 3.4 years behind in reading and 4.2 years behind in writing.
We must not let these statistics become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In expressing his concerns about the pervasiveness of “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, Noel Pearson has said that “Australia and the world need to wake up to it. This form of prejudice wreaks a massive toll on the marginalised and perpetuates great social injustice.”
The 10 years of accumulated NAPLAN data and information show that the literacy and numeracy gap is still too great and is closing too slowly. However, the use of the data allows progress to be tracked so that schools, governments and education authorities can inform decisions and actions to better support the educational needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and support them to success in life and work.
The Nobel Laureate for Economics, Amartya Sen said, “Not to be able to read or write or count or communicate is a tremendous deprivation. The first and most immediate contribution of successful school education is a direct reduction of this basic deprivation…”
If we are not literate and numerate, the range of practical choices open to us are severely constrained. As the Indigenous Literacy Foundation proclaims, “Literacy is Freedom”.
It is ACARA’s core business to develop and support the national curriculum, to administer a national assessment program, and report on the state of Australian schooling. Our vision is that through these roles, we will inspire improvement in the learning of all young Australians, including meeting the specific needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander children and young people.
ACARA’s Reconciliation Action Plan plays an essential part in our work, ensuring:
- Curriculum is inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures is a cross-curriculum priority of the Australian Curriculum.
- The National Assessment Program provides high-quality assessment that is culturally inclusive, respectful of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander historical and contemporary realities and is aligned with the Australian Curriculum and the priority areas.
- Tailored reporting provides the evidence base to inform policymakers and governments, and assists with ensuring equitable outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
ACARA has a unique role – it operates nationally and works with our partners in state and territory departments of education, curriculum authorities, with school leaders and teachers.
In doing this, our role provides us with many opportunities to continue to contribute towards a nation that, in the words of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, “Values Australia’s Indigenous cultures as a key part of the nation’s history, present and future.”