How Far We've Come with NGS Super - NAPLAN

Part 4: Put your pencils down...It's NAPLAN

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Let's start with the basics – what is NAPLAN?
NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. It's a series of standardised tests for year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students designed to evaluate whether they are meeting minimum learning standards in literacy and numeracy.

Gotcha. So, how does NAPLAN work?
There are 4 tests in the series, each taking between 40-65 minutes to complete. They cover 3 parts of literacy – reading, writing, and language conventions (aka spelling, grammar, and punctuation), as well as a numeracy test. 

And this is a national program?
Yep. While testing has been in place since the 1800s, the Adelaide Declaration (which was agreed in 1999 by federal, state and territory education ministers) set out some national goals for schooling and education in the 21st century.

Sound lofty...
And get a load of this - they set out to make all young Australians successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens. It was a moment… To do that, the discussion turned to the need for a national and reliable measurement of students' literacy and numeracy abilities.

Which brought us to NAPLAN...
Exactly. Ministers quickly agreed to its introduction, and by 2008, the first tests were rolled out in schools.

Has it been smooth sailing since?
Not quite... A couple of years in, the Australian Education Union decided to boycott NAPLAN due to concerns about unhelpful comparison tables for students. Talks were held, and administrators agreed to be more transparent about how results would be used to improve learning outcomes.

And how are the results used?
It's a 4-pronged approach, so hang in there…  Students and parents use individual results to discuss strengths and areas for improvement with teachers. Teachers get to identify students needing more challenges or extra support. Schools can pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in teaching programs and set literacy and numeracy goals. And governments and school systems use the results to review and enhance programs and support.

What else should I know?
Another bump in the road was COVID - the pandemic saw NAPLAN testing cancelled in 2020, but it returned in 2021. Looking ahead, there are big things around future funding and test results on the horizon…

Where are we today?

The 2023 NAPLAN results didn't look great… That’s despite a $319 billion national school funding deal with the states and territories 4 years ago.

The context: Literacy and numeracy are vital life skills necessary for daily life, and there are concerns about these skills in Australia.

The other context: After 100 years of states and territories managing their own education and schooling curriculum, a national one was adopted in 2014. 

The numbers:

• 1 in 3 - students failed to reach numeracy, reading and writing expectations in the 2023 NAPLAN results. And over 40% of Year 3 and Year 9 students didn't meet the expectations in grammar and punctuation. 

• 1.75 years - the number of years, on average, that students who live outside major cities are behind in literacy. Kids from low socio-economic families are 2.75 years behind kids from well-off families in reading and 3 years behind in numeracy. And for Indigenous kids, it found that by Year 9, they are 3.4 years behind non-Indigenous kids in reading. 

40-50% - the proportion of adult Tasmanians considered functionally illiterate. That's based on several studies, and it means they lack the basic skills to understand and use information from things like newspapers and books. 

Where to from here?

Every year, the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority releases the NAPLAN results, which can be compared based on criteria like gender, socioeconomic status, and location. The federal government's MySchools website also provides a school-by-school breakdown.

A recent report by the Productivity Commission shows that reforms and additional funding have had little effect on NAPLAN results. The report also raised concerns about whether standards are too low and if enough is being done to identify and support struggling students. 

• To tackle these issues, Federal Education Minister Jason Clare has appointed an expert panel to identify new benchmarks for student learning. These targets have not yet been made public, but the Albanese Government has announced plans to tie school funding to learning outcomes under the National Schools Reform Agreement. This agreement will be negotiated next year, so watch this space...

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