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The pros and cons of NAPLAN

NAPLAN has been used as a benchmark for student performance against national averages since 2008, but just how effective is the test? And what are the repercussions for students and teachers?

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States not processing NAPLAN trial

New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and the Northern Territory are among the states not going ahead with this year’s NAPLAN online testing trial.

Last week, Queensland’s Education Minister Kate Jones confirmed state schools would withdraw from the NAPLAN online testing trial this year.

Queensland’s Catholic and private schools have also followed suit, Education Review reported.

Education Review reported that a NSW Education Department spokesperson said that it wants to see what happens in other jurisdictions first.

The spokesperson also raised concerns about the typing skills of Year 3 students who must sit NAPLAN. NSW, for the moment, plans to adopt the online test in 2018.

The NT Education Department has taken a similar position, according to the online publication. It also has geographical concerns due to its high proportion of regional and rural schools.

The Tasmanian Education Department said it wants students to familiarise themselves with online NAPLAN before having to officially undergo the examination.

Only schools from Victoria, Western Australia, the ACT and South Australia will participate in the online testing trial.

“I’m confident that any and all concerns can adequately be addressed to ensure that this is a smooth process for schools who are involved in it,” Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham told journalists in Hobart.

“The jurisdictions who are continuing with that trial have committed to work closely with officials in terms of technological issues to make sure any and all issues are resolved to their satisfaction so the small number of schools participating in the trial can have absolute confidence that it will work and be successful this year.”

Minister Birmingham added that “transitioning to NAPLAN Online will enable us to have faster results for Australian schools and much richer results in terms of individual student assessments”.

“It’ll make NAPLAN a much better tool in the future, for teachers, principals, parents to be able to get quick, detailed information about where students sit, their competencies and where additional assistance is required, or indeed where extra potential exists in terms of students of high achievement and ability.”

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority is scheduled to roll out NAPLAN online nationwide by 2019.

Student takes exam

Queensland pulls out of NAPLAN online trial

Queensland’s Education Minister Kate Jones has confirmed state schools will withdraw from the NAPLAN online testing trial this year.

Ms Jones made the announcement ahead of the Education Ministerial Council meeting in Hobart in April.

“I have always said that I would not commit Queensland students to participate in the online NAPLAN tests if they were not ready,” she said.

“I simply cannot commit to a system that might disadvantage our students. We need to be 100 per cent certain that the online tests are good to go.

“However, recent trials conducted by my Department and in other states have identified ongoing concerns about the readiness of the online tests.

“My Department identified flaws with display settings in the online testing platform, which may be confusing for students.

“That is why I have withdrawn Queensland state schools from participating in the trial this year.

“We need to be sure that the system is fully ready so parents and teachers don’t lose faith in the program overall.”

Ms Jones said all Queensland state school students would sit traditional paper-based tests for NAPLAN this year, to be held between 9 and 11 May.

“Around 100 Queensland schools, including 68 state schools, were scheduled to participate in the 2017 NAPLAN online trial,” she said.

“I’ll be informing my Ministerial colleagues that Queensland state schools will delay the trial of NAPLAN online for 12 months, to allow sufficient time for these concerns to be addressed.

“The Queensland Government is committed to NAPLAN, but we expect the online tests to be of the highest standard.

“Last year Queensland students recorded their best ever results on NAPLAN which reflects the hard work that goes on in our schools every day.

“We believe in the concept of NAPLAN online and the potential benefits it will bring for students.

“We’ll continue to work with our national partners so that we can have confidence in the NAPLAN online rollout into the future.”

This year Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and the Northern Territory will conduct the 2017 NAPLAN tests as traditional pencil and paper tests.

PISA, NAPLAN reports add to worry over Australian education

Released in the first week of December, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report has highlighted issues in education outcomes for Australian students (tested at Year 9), adding to the weight of other benchmarking reports released recently. Read more

The NAPLAN risk – data can fail to identify a school’s real needs


Some state governments have considered linking the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) data to school funding. Although the perceived benefits of this funding model may indicate the education outcomes of schools can be lifted, Jo Anderson, Lecturer in Inclusive Education at the University of New England, has told Education Matters that the issue is more complex.

What are some of the perceived benefits of linking NAPLAN data to school funding?

There are perceived benefits because NAPLAN purports to assess to the basic literacy and numeracy skills, and also because one of the things it measures is the national minimum standards. So we’re talking about looking at a standardised test that gives a minimum standard skillset that all students should reach, but really with the national minimum standard we’re looking at 100% of students, ultimately that would be the ideal. So it’s about a perception that it can target those really basic needs – the literacy and numeracy skills that all students are going to need to be able to engage with all the other areas of the curriculum.

What are the challenges of linking NAPLAN data to school funding?

Well there’s a few big key issues. One of them is around participation in NAPLAN. We know that every year we’ve got declining numbers of students participating in NAPLAN, and the other thing is that that’s not consistent across schools or sectors. You could have two schools that are almost in one community, one school might have 100% participation, the next school will have 80% participation. So when you’re looking at linking funding to NAPLAN and you haven’t got data from all the students in the school that can cause issues when they do impute data because you’re not getting a really accurate representation. So there’s a risk of the data actually not identifying clearly where the real needs are.

Also, students with an intellectual disability are exempt from sitting a NAPLAN test, along with students that don’t have English as their first language. We also know that a lot of the students who are absent for NAPLAN testing tend to be students with learning difficulties that sit at the bottom end. So none of those students are having their data counted in the NAPLAN data. Which again means that you are at risk of actually not really identifying where the needs are.

What are the downfalls of penalising schools for their success?

Well that’s a really interesting one. Schools will implement a program – if their results are poorer they get additional funding and they can put in some really good programs in place. But we know with education that for programs to be successful, theyneed to be sustainable, and they need to be ongoing and long-term. The problem with the NAPLAN data is that because it’s set every two years, each year you’re testing a different cohort of students. So one year a cohort of students could do quite poorly and the school gets some additional funding. In the next lot of tests, the school can actually perform quite well but it’s a different cohort of students that’s being tested. So if the school was to then be penalised, they’re going to lose funding even though the students who need it still need it, but also as I said you need funding for the long-term.

Schools need to know that they’re going to get this funding for five years so they can actually put some really good programs in place, and know they’re going to be able to sustain it to see students through their years of schooling. If you’re looking at employing additional staff, buying additional resources, all of those things, that needs to be sustainable over time. And with improving literacy and numeracy skills, there’s no quick fix. It’s not about a quick fix, it’s about sustained intervention that’s going to build and improve outcomes for kids.

What are your suggestions for what schools and governments can do with NAPLAN data?

Although I’m at university now, I’ve just come out of working in the school system for many years and working in leadership roles in schools, and I think it can be very useful for schools to drill down into the individual student data. For individual students it’s quite useful to see what areas within literacy and numeracy are areas of need and areas of strength. You can see patterns within classrooms, so there might be a Year 5 classroom where students are particularly struggling in inferencing, and so you can see that you need to put some support in there. So schools can use it in that way.

I think it’s a useful tool if it’s used in conjunction with a whole lot of other data. That’s one of the things the Gonski review acknowledges – that NAPLAN is a data set that is available. It’s the onlystandardised data set that we have across the nation. But it needs to be used in conjunction with a whole lot of other sets of data. There’s so much data out there, I think that NAPLAN certainly has its place as a small part of that big picture data can give. However, when we’re looking at that national level or even at the state level, I don’t think it should play any more of a role than just one part of the data puzzle.

In schools, if you get inside the data and actually have a look at what the students are doing, what their areas of strengths are, where they need to build, perhaps as a school there might be some areas of weakness, then you can target some professional development for teachers and maybe target some additional support staff in the classes. So it does have its place in that way. But then again, you’ve still got some schools where you’ve got large numbers of students who are not sitting NAPLAN, so they don’t actually have that data. You need to make sure you’ve got data for all the students in your school so that you can use it to inform planning and teaching for all students, not just ones that do sit NAPLAN.

Do you have any suggested improvements for NAPLAN going into the future?

That’s a really good question. It’s a really tricky one because as soon as you look at any testing regime, obviously it needs to be done in a way so that it’s manageable. I certainly think by making NAPLAN available online for students it becomes more accessible, but also you can start to have higher expectations, or drill down a little bit more into some of the literacy and numeracy skills. One of the questions around NAPLAN is, is it really testing? Does it really test reading? Does it really test spelling? And I think if we looked at using digital technologies, then perhaps we could make sure that NAPLAN is really testing what it purports to test.

Now that we have a national curriculum, I do wonder whether rather than relying so heavily on NAPLAN it would be better to look at making sure that we perhaps increase moderation and get more consistency around the assessments that we use within our schools to assess the outcomes of the curriculum that the school students are working on, and perhaps look at report card data and at strengthening some of those things. It gives a bigger picture. One of the things with NAPLAN is that there’s no story behind the data. And when you lose that story behind the data, you run a risk of not really capturing that student or the essence of the learning of that student.

I think once NAPLAN goes online that will open up a whole lot of opportunities. We certainly need to work at making NAPLAN more accessible to the cohorts ofstudents that are currently exempt. Given that NAPLAN has the prominence it does federally and nationally, they don’t have any voice in that data at the moment, so I think that needs to be something that we need to work on.




Annual NAPLAN Report reveals steady performance, concern over withdrawal rates

Students 250x250

The NAPLAN results of Australian school children have remained relatively steady despite a rise in withdrawal rates according to the annual NAPLAN report released by the Australian Curriculum Assessment Authority (ACARA) today.

The 2014 NAPLAN National Report has revealed that, relative to 2008 and 2013, student achievement has remained steady for each year level and most domains. It reported moderate increases in reading achievement, relative to 2008, for students in Years 3 and 5, and a moderate decrease in the writing performance of Years 3, 5 and 7s.

This year also marks the first time the progression of a cohort of school students that undertook the NAPLAN test from Year 3 to 9 can be tabled, as those that sat the test as Year 3 students in 2008, sat it for the final time as Year 9 students in 2014.

Following the preliminary report in August, the national report provides comparable data for the 2014 national and state/territory results for each year level – 3, 5, 7 and 9 – and for each test domain – reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and numeracy. It also gives comparisons of national and state/territory achievement in each year and test domain between 2008 (2011 for persuasive writing) to 2014 and 2012 to 2014.

This year’s report showed the level of withdrawals, where a student was deliberately kept from sitting NAPLAN, were at a record high. The withdrawal rate for Year 9 reading and numeracy recorded one of the greatest rises, up 1.4% since 2010.

Dr Stanley Rabinowitz, ACARA’s General Manager, Assessment & Reporting, called on parents to have their children participate in NAPLAN, and said all parties are better off getting the information the test provides.

“Parents who do not allow their children to sit for this test are not getting the benefit of a second set of eyes on how well their children are doing,” he said. “Schools are not getting that benefit, and the trends that we’re presenting are still 95%, which is normal attendance, are still fully valid but not as complete as they could be.”

To combat the rise in student withdrawals Dr Rabinowitz said ACARA would emphasise the value of NAPLAN test results and why they’re important, not just for the state and territories but for the schools and the students, and show how the information can be positively used.

“The best strategy for a school is to understand the value of these results and to make students comfortable as they sit for this test and not put undue pressure on them.”

ACARA’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Randall said although the results show steady student achievement, there are some great examples of sustained effort and improvement in school level results, which will be evident when the My School website is updated in March 2015.

Australian school students will sit their NAPLAN tests online from 2017 which has been touted to be able to provide better assessment, more precise results and a faster turnaround of information.

ACARA reveals NAPLAN tests better online


The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has revealed key findings from its research, funded by the Federal Government, that online NAPLAN testing will deliver better quality results that will benefit schools, parents, teachers and students.

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Families Wait on NAPLAN Reports

STUDENT results in the national literacy and numeracy tests will be delayed for about one month after an error was discovered in the printed reports. Read more

NAPLAN Scores Suffer

Prolific absenteeism is crippling the academic performance of thousands of school students and contributing to Australia’s slide down the international education rankings.

A major study of 415,000 school students conducted over five years to 2012, “Student Attendance and Educational Outcomes: Every Day Counts”, has linked increasing rates of absenteeism with declining scores in national literacy and numeracy tests.

The study conducted for the Federal Government by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Western Australia warns: “Parents need to be aware that when their child misses school it can have an ongoing impact on their learning.

“Even small amounts of unauthorised absence from school were associated with substantial falls in average Naplan (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) test scores.

Parents and educators are so concerned about the levels of school absenteeism they have called for a whole of community campaign to ensure children attend class on every day of term.

Schools have revealed they are not only grappling with hardened young truants – they are increasingly complaining that some parents encourage their children to skip class to go shopping, attend a birthday party or take an early holiday.

About 33,000 teenagers are absent from school every day in NSW, according to NSW Education Department data that shows attendance rates can be as low as 70 per cent.

President of the Australian Primary Principals’ Association Norm Hart said it was extremely important research.

“It is absolutely critical that we address this matter – kids are away from school too much and the community is too lenient and too forgiving,” he said.

“They (the Telethon Institute) have found a direct link between student absenteeism and Naplan scores.”

What We Don’t Get From Naplan

Schools number-crunching published NAPLAN scores are missing the point. Moreover, principals who draw up lists of NAPLAN “competitors” demonstrate a lack of understanding of just how limited NAPLAN scores are. Comparisons with schools systems that have used NAPLAN-like tests, however, are useful. Let me explain. Read more

Parents told kids can opt out of NAPLAN

More than 1 million students are currently sitting down to complete the NAPLAN test and one principal has come out with a message for parents. Mr Paul Marshall, principal at Emmaus Christian School in Canberra, has told parents they could withdraw their children from the exams. The principal stated on the school’s website, ‘I have several issues with the NAPLAN testing regime’. ‘One of them is that the results take so long to get back to us, so long that they do not benefir the teachers or students’. On average it takes six months for NAPLAN results to get back to schools. Mr Marshall had further advice for parents, stating that ‘the decision to allow your children to sit the NAPLAN tests rest with you’.

National rates of withdrawal from the NAPLAN tests have grown since it was first introduced in 2008, with the withdrawal rate for year 3 mathematics, for example, growing from 0.5% in 2008 to 1.9% in 2012. Another issue currently facing NAPLAN is that parents seem to view the tests as an assessment of the school’s performance, with Mr Marshall stating that this was ‘akin to judging the quality of a hospital on a snap check of the health of its patients’

Despite this a spokesperson for the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Austhority (ACARA) which runs the tests, said that participation rates remained high and it expected ‘all students to sit NAPLAN’.



NAPLAN tests too hard for teachers

MANY teachers do not know how to use data provided by annual assessments of their pupils’ literacy and numeracy ability, despite often criticising the tests themselves, a new report has found.

The report, from the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee also said teachers need more training to help understand the basics of English and mathematics taught in primary schools.


Gonski survey: ATAR is unfair and creates too much stress

UNSW Sydney’s Gonski Institute for Education has released its findings from a national survey about the ATAR, with 80 per cent of participants saying university requirements should also consider student ability and talents outside of end-of-school exam results.

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Boosting education opportunities for disadvantaged students

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Intervention demonstrates dramatic PAT Maths growth

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