NAPLAN Results Show Australia has a Major Equity Problem in Education

The latest national literacy and numeracy test (NAPLAN) results contradict Christopher Pyne’s claim that Australia does not have an equity problem in education. The only verdict to be drawn from the new NAPLAN report is that Australia has a major equity problem and little progress has been made in alleviating it in the last five years.

There are very large achievement gaps between the results of students from targeted equity groups and those from high education status (HES) families. Year 5 students from low education status (LES) and remote area families are 1½-2 years behind students from HES families in reading and numeracy and Year 5 Indigenous students are over 2 years behind [Charts 1 & 2 below]. Year 9 students from LES and remote area families are 3½ years behind HES students in reading and 4½ years behind in numeracy [Charts 1 & 3]. Year 9 Indigenous students are nearly 5 years behind in reading and are 6 years behind in numeracy.

Year 9 LES students are achieving well below the level of Year 7 HES students in reading and numeracy and only slightly above Year 5 students from these families [Chart 1]. Indigenous Year 9 students are achieving below Year 5 HES students in reading and numeracy.

Few inroads have been made in reducing these gaps.

There was little change in the reading gaps between HES and LES Year 5 & 9 students since 2008 and the numeracy gaps have widened [Charts 2 & 3]. The HES/LES gap in Year 9 numeracy increased by the equivalent of a year’s learning.

The numeracy gaps also widened between HES students and Indigenous and remote area students in Year 5 & 9, with larger increases in Year 9.

One bright spot in the results is the significant reduction in the achievement gaps between HES students and Indigenous and remote area students in Year 5 reading and a smaller reduction in the HES/Indigenous gap in Year 9 reading. There was little change in the HES/remote area student gap in Year 9 reading.

There were large improvements in the average reading scores of Indigenous and remote area primary school students, with continual improvement since 2008 in Year 3 reading and a large increase in Year 5 reading in 2013 [Charts 4, 6, & 8]. There were also small increases in reading amongst Indigenous and remote area secondary school students.

While there were also significant increases in average reading scores for LES primary school students since 2008, these largely occurred in 2009 and there was little or no change since then. Average reading scores for LES secondary students declined slightly since 2008.

Average numeracy results for targeted equity students have deteriorated since 2008 or remained unchanged [Charts 5, 7, & 9]. LES students have gone backwards in numeracy at all Year levels (Year 5 since 2009) as have Indigenous secondary school students. Year 9 LES students have lost a year of learning since 2009 and Year 9 Indigenous students lost about a half a year. There was little change in numeracy results for Indigenous primary school students and remote area students since 2008 or 2009.

Overall, average results in reading and numeracy have not improved since 2008 for most Year levels [Charts 14 & 15]. There were significant improvements in Year 3 & 5 reading of 18 points which is equivalent to about half a year of learning at these levels. In contrast, reading in Year 7 & 9 and numeracy at all year levels have largely flat lined since 2008 or 2009.

The NAPLAN results follow those of the OECD’s Programme for International Assessments (PISA) published earlier this month which also show large achievement gaps between rich and poor. The two sets of test results provide overwhelming evidence that Australia does have a major equity problem.

How the Federal Education Minister can continue to deny that Australia has an equity problem in the face of this evidence is beyond comprehension. It can only be surmised that perpetuating the myth that Australia does not have an equity problem provides an additional justification for the Coalition Government’s decision to ditch the conditions of Labor’s Better Schools program that require state and territory governments to distribute Federal funding according to a Gonksi-type model and increase their own funding for disadvantaged students. The Gonski formula would deliver large funding increases to government schools while private schools would get much less because low SES, Indigenous and remote area students form a much lower proportions of private school enrolments than in government schools. So, denying that Australia has an equity problem is a way of denying the need for more funding for disadvantaged government schools.

The new PISA and NAPLAN results provide powerful justification to fully implement the Gonski funding model to target increased Federal and state/territory funding at disadvantaged students. All state and territory governments and private school systems must implement a Gonski-type needs-based funding formula if Australia is to make any progress in reducing inequity in education.

Low education status (LES) students
The average results for students whose parents did not complete Year 12 have mostly stagnated in reading and declined in numeracy since 2008.

There were significant increases in Year 3 & 5 reading, but these occurred in only one year [Chart 4]. Year 5 reading increased by 15 points in 2013, but before then it was largely unchanged and it remains to be seen whether this recent improvement can be sustained over coming years. The Year 3 increase of 10 points happened in 2009 and since then the average has remained virtually unchanged. Average reading results for Year 7 & 9 declined slightly.

Numeracy results declined for each year level since 2008 or 2009 [Chart 5]. The Year 9 decline of 20 points since 2009 was the largest and equivalent to about one year of learning.

Very large achievement gaps between LES and HES students remain in primary and secondary school. In 2013, Year 5 LES students were 72 points in reading behind HES students and 80 points behind in numeracy [Chart 2]. These gaps are equivalent to about two years of schooling. Year 9 LES students were 72 points in reading behind students whose parents had a university degree and 92 points behind in numeracy [Chart 3]. These gaps are equivalent to 3½ to 4½ years of schooling.

The achievement gaps between LES and HES students in Year 5 & 9 have mostly increased since 2008. The gap in Year 5 reading declined slightly between 2008 and 2013, but increased significantly in numeracy by about half a year’s learning. The gap for Year 9 reading increased slightly and there was a large increase in the numeracy gap that was equivalent to about one year of learning.

Year 9 LES students achieved much lower scores in reading and numeracy than Year 7 HES students and only a little above the scores of Year 5 HES students. For example, the average reading score of Year 9 LES students in 2013 was 543 compared to 576 for Year 7 HES students and 535 for Year 5 students.

Much larger proportions of LES students than HES students did not achieve the national benchmarks for reading and numeracy in 2013. Nine per cent of Year 5 LES students did not achieve the reading benchmark and 15% did not achieve the numeracy benchmark compared with 2% of HES students [Chart 10]. Fifteen per cent of Year 9 LES students did not achieve the national reading benchmark and 21% did not achieve the numeracy benchmark compared to 2 and 3% of HES students [Chart 11].

There was a very large drop in the percentage of Year 5 LES students who did not achieve the reading benchmark between 2008 and 2013 – from 20 to 9%. This is a very significant improvement that is largely accounted for by the significant increase in the average score for these students in one year from 448 in 2012 to 463 in 2013.

In contrast, the percentage of Year 9 LES students below the numeracy benchmark increased from 13% in 2008 to 21% in 2013. There was little change in the percentage of students below the Year 5 numeracy benchmark and the Year 9 reading benchmark.

There is also a very large gap between the proportions of LES and HES students achieving in the top band of results. Only 1-3% of Year 5 & 9 LES students were in the top bands for reading and numeracy in 2013 [Charts 12 & 13]. In contrast, 22% of Year 5 HES students were in the top reading band and 19% were in the top numeracy band while 11% of Year 9 HES students were in the top reading band and 23% were in the top numeracy band.

Indigenous students
The results of Indigenous students have mostly not improved since 2008, but large increases occurred in Year 3 & 5 reading [Chart 6]. The average for Year 3 reading increased by 30 points since 2008 and is equivalent to nearly a full year of learning. Year 5 reading also increased by 30 points but nearly all the increase occurred in 2013 and it remains to be seen whether this level of achievement is sustained in future years. Year 9 reading fluctuated over the period and the average score in 2013 was slightly higher than in 2008 but significantly higher than in 2010. There was little change in Year 7 reading after 2009.

There was little overall improvement in Year 3 numeracy since 2008 and considerable fluctuations during the period. There was no improvement in Year 5 & 7 numeracy after 2009 and 2008, respectively, while Year 9 numeracy declined significantly after 2009 [Chart 7].

The gaps between Indigenous and HES students are very large in primary and secondary school. In 2013, Year 5 Indigenous students were 96 points behind HES students in reading and 106 points behind in numeracy which is equivalent to about 2½ years of learning [Chart 2]. The reading gap declined since 2008 by about one half of a year’s learning while the numeracy gap increased slightly. The Year 9 reading gap was 95 points, or nearly five years of learning, and the Year 9 numeracy gap was 122 points which is equivalent to about six years of learning [Chart 3]. The reading gap declined by seven points since 2008, but the numeracy gap increased by 14 points which is over half a year’s learning.

The reading and numeracy scores for Year 9 Indigenous students in 2013 are even below those of Year 5 students from highly educated families. For example, Year 9 Indigenous students scored 520 in reading compared to 535 by Year 5 students from highly educated families.

Large proportions of Indigenous students did not achieve the reading and numeracy benchmarks. Seventeen per cent of Year 5 Indigenous students did not achieve the reading benchmark and 27% did not achieve the numeracy benchmark while 26% of Year 9 students did not achieve the reading benchmark and 34% did not achieve the numeracy benchmark [Charts 10 & 11]. However, the percentage of students below benchmarks fell between 2008 and 2013, except in Year 9 numeracy, and there was a very large decline in the case of Year 5 reading from 37 to 17% below benchmark.

Very small proportions of Indigenous students are achieving in the top band of reading and numeracy [Charts 12 & 13].

Remote area students
The average reading results for remote area primary school students have improved since 2008, but there has been little change for remote secondary school students [Chart 8]. There was a large improvement in Year 3 reading over the period while the large improvement in Year 5 reading occurred in 2013. Numeracy results were largely unchanged since 2008 or 2009 [Chart 9].

Remote area students are significantly behind their metropolitan counterparts. In 2013, remote area Year 5 students were 63 points behind HES students in reading and 74 points behind in numeracy [Chart 2]. These gaps are equivalent to about 1½-2 years of learning. Remote area Year 9 students were 70 points behind HES students in reading and 92 points behind in numeracy. These gaps are equivalent of 3½ and 4½ years of schooling.

The reading gap for Year 5 declined by 10 points since 2008 and the numeracy gap increased slightly. There was a very slight decline in the Year 9 reading gap but a significant increase in the numeracy gap by 11 points.

Nine per cent of Year 5 remote area students did not achieve the reading benchmark in 2013 and 15% did not achieve the numeracy benchmark [Chart 10]. There was a large decline the percentage below the reading benchmark from 20% in 2008 but little change in the percentage below the numeracy benchmark. Eighteen per cent of Year 9 remote area students were below the reading benchmark in 2013 and 22% were below the numeracy benchmark [Chart 11]. There was no change in the percentage below the reading benchmark since 2008, but a large increase in the percentage below the numeracy benchmark.

Very small proportions of remote area students achieved in the top reading and numeracy levels in 2013 [Charts 12 & 13].

Full implementation of the Gonksi funding model is fundamental for greater equity in education
The latest NAPLAN results show that Australian Government and state/territory government education policies over the past five years have not been generally successful in improving the reading and numeracy results of LES, Indigenous and remote area students or in reducing large achievement gaps between these students and HES students.

There were large improvements in primary school reading for students in all these equity groups since 2008, small improvements in secondary school reading for Indigenous and remote area students, but small declines for LES students. In contrast, numeracy results have gone backwards for LES students at all year levels and Year 9 Indigenous students and have remained largely unchanged for Indigenous students at other year levels and remote area students at all year levels.

Very large achievement gaps remain between the results of students from targeted equity groups and those from high education status (HES) families. Year 5 students from low education status (LES) and remote area families are 1½-2 years behind students from HES families in reading and numeracy and Indigenous students are over 2 years behind. Year 9 students from LES and remote area families are 3½ years behind HES students in reading and 4½ years behind in numeracy. Year 9 Indigenous students are nearly 5 years behind in reading and are 6 years behind in numeracy.

The only significant reduction in achievement gaps from 2008 to 2013 was between Indigenous and remote area students and HES students in Year 5 reading. There was little change in the other reading achievement gaps in Year 5 & 9. In contrast, numeracy achievement gaps increased for all targeted equity groups in Year 5 & 9, with larger increases in Year 9.

The Gonski funding model was designed to begin to reduce these inequities through a new framework to allocate funding according to need complemented by large funding increases for disadvantaged schools and students. The Better Schools funding scheme introduced by the Labor Government adopted the basic Gonski framework for allocating funds to schools and proposed a $14.5 billion increase in funding over six years, of which $9.8 billion was to be provided by the Federal government and the rest by state and territory governments. The large part of the increase, including $7 billion in Federal funding, was back-loaded on to the last two years of the transition period.

The Coalition never accepted this new framework and the promised funding increases for disadvantaged students over the six years. It was wedded to the iniquitous SES model introduced by the Howard Government that provided much larger funding increases to private schools than to government schools. The Federal election forced its hand and it finally promised to support the Better Schools funding increases of $2.8 billion over four years. However, it refused to commit to implementing the Gonksi funding formula.

Since the election, the Coalition Government has tried to sabotage Labor’s funding plan. It reneged on its election promise by claiming that only $1.6 billion was available for the next four years. A public outcry forced the Government to honour its promise to keep the full funding increase of $2.8 billion budgeted for the next four years.

However, other features of Labor’s plan have been ditched. State and territory governments and private school organisations will not be required to allocate Federal or state funds according to the Gonski needs-based funding framework and there is no requirement for the states to provide additional funding for disadvantaged students. This has effectively sabotaged Gonski.

Without full implementation of the Gonski model, Australia faces more PISA and NAPLAN results like those published this month – little improvement in the results of disadvantaged students and continuing large achievement gaps between rich and poor. Disadvantaged students in Australia face a bleak future without a full Gonski.

Charts on NAPLAN Results 2013

Notes:
1. Education status of students in NAPLAN is defined as the highest education that a parent achieved. High education status students have at least one parent who completed a university degree and low education status students are those whose parents did not complete Year 12.
2. At Year 5, one year of learning is equivalent to approximately 40 points on the NAPLAN scale and at Year 9 one year of learning is equivalent to about 20 points.

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