NAPLAN Results Provide Little Joy and Much Concern

There was little joy in the preliminary NAPLAN results published last month. Writing continued to decline in all Year levels while reading and numeracy have stagnated. The results are very uneven across the country with NSW, Victoria and the ACT generally achieving significantly higher results than other jurisdictions.

The big talking point in this year’s results was the decline in writing at all Year levels tested. This was largely attributed to a badly designed test. However, writing has been in continual decline in nearly all Year levels since the persuasive writing test began in 2011. Year 5 writing has declined by 14 points, Year 7 by 18 points and Year 9 by 16 points.

Poor writing results are particularly evident in Year 9 where 18 per cent of students tested did not achieve the national benchmark. This compares with 6 to 11 per cent in the other Year levels and 6 to 8 per cent across all Year levels in reading and numeracy.

A major concern is that the proportion of students below the writing benchmark has increased since 2011, in sharp contrast to a general reduction in the proportion below the reading and numeracy benchmarks.

It is time that governments and their officials acknowledge the continuing poor writing results and initiate remedial action. Making the tests easier, as some advocate, is not an option. Persuasive writing is a necessary skill in the modern age and it must be taught across the curriculum.

The new results also reveal other areas of concern. The steady improvement in reading in Years 3 and 5 since NAPLAN was introduced in 2008 appears to have stalled while there has been no improvement in Year 9 reading at all.

Year 3 reading increased by 19 points (equivalent to about half a year’s learning) between 2008 and 2012, but there has been no improvement since. Year 5 reading increased by 18 points to 2013 but did not increase in 2014. Year 7 reading has improved slightly since 2008.

Another concern is that numeracy results have generally stagnated since 2008 or 2009. There was no improvement in Years 5, 7 and 9 and only a slight improvement in Year 3.

More detail about these problems will be provided in the full national report on NAPLAN to be published later in the year. On past trends, there are unlikely to be any surprises – just confirmation of continuing poor results for low SES, Indigenous and remote area students.

The 2013 report showed that Year 5 low SES students are about two years of schooling behind high SES students in reading and numeracy and Year 9 low SES students are four to five years behind. The reading and numeracy scores of Year 9 low SES students are much lower than for Year 7 high SES students.

The gaps between Indigenous and high SES students are very large. For example, the Year 9 reading and numeracy gaps are five to six years of learning. The average reading and numeracy scores for Year 9 Indigenous students are even below those of Year 5 students from high SES families.

There was little change in the reading gaps for low SES students since 2008, but some reduction for Indigenous students. Numeracy gaps for low SES and Indigenous students have increased.

These figures give lie to the Federal Education Minister’s repeated claim that Australia does not have an equity problem in education. They show we have a major equity problem.

The Gonski funding plan is designed to improve equity in education outcomes by directing large increases in funding to students and schools most in need, government and private. The Government’s refusal to commit to the full increases over six years means that many young people will continue to be denied an adequate education. Funding is not the full answer to reducing inequity, but it is fundamental to making a start.

This article was originally published in the October issue of Australian Teacher Magazine.

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