New NAPLAN proficiency levels bring positive results - Education Matters Magazine
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New NAPLAN proficiency levels bring positive results

David de Carvalho

With new NAPLAN proficiency levels introduced earlier this year, ACARA CEO David de Carvalho explains what educators can expect as the results come in.

When the new approach to NAPLAN reporting was agreed to by all education ministers in February, two main aims were to offer more meaningful information to teachers, parents and carers about a child’s performance and to identify students needing additional support.

Under this new approach, students are assessed against four levels of proficiency based on previous years of schooling: Exceeding, Strong, Developing and Needs additional support. These replace the previous band system and set a higher level of achievement than the previous national minimum standard.

The proficiency levels were set using the expert judgment of professional teachers. Panels of teachers, nominated by state, Catholic and independent sectors, identified NAPLAN questions that students should be able to answer based on the curriculum taught to them in the preceding years, in order to be considered as having met a challenging but reasonable expectation at the time of testing.

On our NAPLAN website, we have published detailed proficiency level descriptions for each year level and domain for those who wish to develop a deeper familiarity with them. These descriptions describe some of the skills and understandings students can generally demonstrate at the time of testing. The is not to describe each individual student, but to provide a fair summary of the typical skills and understandings for a student at the level.

The intent of the new approach is to show NAPLAN achievement more clearly and simply, identifying where expectations are being met. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Recently, ACARA released the 2023 NAPLAN national results, which also included state and territory level data, as well as demographic information. These results were the first to reflect the new reporting changes agreed to by ministers. What they show is the new reporting system is working exactly as hoped. It shows strong performance among Australian students in literacy and numeracy skills, but provides clear information on those areas requiring improvement.

Almost 10 percent of students across Australia ‘Need additional support’ in literacy and numeracy while 23 percent are in the ‘Developing’ level and working towards meeting expectations. With expectations set higher than in previous years, it was anticipated that a higher number of children were not yet meeting the expectations at the time of testing.

The results also continue to highlight the educational disparities of students with Indigenous heritage and from low socio-educational backgrounds. Around one-third of Indigenous students ‘Need additional support’ compared to one-in-10 nationally, on average, across all year levels and domains. The average NAPLAN scores for all year levels and domains for students from the highest socio-educational background were substantially above those from the lowest. The new reporting system has succeeded in clearly identifying these areas where we need to focus our efforts.

On a positive note, around 65 percent of students are meeting the higher literacy and numeracy expectations, achieving in the ‘Strong’ and ‘Exceeding’ proficiency levels. Across year groups, on average, 65 percent in Year 3, 68 percent in Year 5, 67 percent in Year 7 and 62 percent in Year 9 met the higher expectations (in the ‘Exceeding’ and ‘Strong’ levels) for literacy and numeracy.

When we look more closely at numeracy, on average, the proportion of students who achieved at ‘Exceeding’ and ‘Strong’ levels in 2023 increased from Year 3 (64.7 percent) to Year 5 (67.7 percent) and Year 7 (67.2 percent) and then dropped in Year 9 (63.9 percent), apart from Western Australia (69.4 percent).

In writing, the story is slightly different with primary students being more likely to achieve at ‘Exceeding’ or ‘Strong’ levels than secondary students. 76 percent of Year 3 students and 66.2 percent of Year 5 students met expectations compared to 62.5 percent in Year 7 and 58.0 percent in Year 9.

Another positive outcome was the increase in participation rates across all year levels and domains that returning towards pre-COVID-19 levels. This is a good sign for NAPLAN’s future, reversing a concerning downward trend in recent years exacerbated by the pandemic.

While the new NAPLAN approach will take time to bed in, it’s evident parents now have clearer, simple information on their child’s performance, and schools have the decisive information to act earlier to get additional support to students who are struggling.

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