The latest NAPLAN results show students’ performance has only improved marginally since the tests were first introduced a decade ago.
Across the country there has been a 3.52 per cent improvement in reading and a 2.55 per cent increase in numeracy since the tests were first held in 2008.
“I’m always keen to see more improvement, but the results we’ve got here show where improvement has occurred,” said Robert Randall, the Chief Executive of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).
“We should quite rightly acknowledge the efforts of teachers, and school principals and mums and dads who’ve been behind all that improvement.”
But it is not all good news.
He had some concerns about writing, where there has been a 2.04 per cent decline since 2011 when the test format changed.
“We need to look into that data and say, ‘Why is that the case? What maybe is causing it?'” he said.
“We’ll have a conversation with states and territories to see, is it a curriculum issue we need to address? Is it a teaching and learning issue? How can we improve our assessment?”
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Queensland and Western Australia have shown the most improvement since 2008.
The Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria still achieve high results but they have plateaued.
The Northern Territory has improved primary reading and numeracy standards since 2008, but still remains far below the rest of the country.
ACARA said there had been a particularly good improvement in year 3 reading across the country.
A line graph showing the progress in the different states and territories’ Year Three NAPLAN reading results over 10 years.
“By about the end of year 2 if young people aren’t on top of reading we know they’re going to struggle,” Mr Randall said.
“So it’s a really important milestone for us to focus on and the NAPLAN data’s really useful data for us — and that we’ve seen that sustained improvement in year 3 reading is a fantastic thing.”
He said the challenge is to improve the performance of students in years 7 and 9.
“They’re not far away from finishing school — if they’re not on top of literacy and numeracy in these years then they’re going to continue to struggle beyond school so we need to make sure that we get them to the standards that we expect,” he said.
‘A missed opportunity’
Education assessment specialist Dr Rachel Wilson from the University of Sydney said results had not improved enough over ten years.
“This presents really as a missed opportunity,” she said.
Dr Wilson said there were other ways of testing children which could have led to better results.
“Those assessment systems are not high-stakes, they usually are operated at the teacher level and involve the teacher really understanding students and what they know through classroom-based assessment,” she said.
“The sorts of effects we see from those far surpass the improvements we’ve seen from NAPLAN. We’re talking about 10 or 20 per cent, sometimes 30 per cent.”
While Dr Wilson would like to see a review of the way NAPLAN is run, she said a national system of assessment had produced some good outcomes over the past ten years.
“Certainly it has shone a light on children who’ve been falling through the gaps, schools that have been underperforming, and it has been a very useful tool for directing resources to areas of need in education,” she said.
The latest results show no significant change in average results compared to last year.
They are only preliminary and only give a national overview.
Students will be able to get their individual results from the middle of August, and the final report will be released in December.