NAPLAN is an annual assessment of Australian students in years 3, 5, 7
and 9 that tests students in reading, writing, language and literacy. The test
has been conducted in May each year since 2008, and results are available four
months later in September. Since 2010 results have been available publically on
the My School website at an individual school level.
Literacy and numeracy testing was carried out at a state level for a
number of years before NAPLAN was introduced in 2008. New South Wales had been
testing since 1989 and other states and territories followed throughout the
1990s. According to Professor Barry McGaw, Chair of the Board of the
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), attempts
were made to assess the results of the various testing regimes to provide a
This approach was taken until the mid-2000's when ministers from all State,
Territory and Federal Governments agreed to shift to using the same test, thus
Melbourne Declaration on
Educational Goals for Young Australians
In 2008 the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood
Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA) agreed the Melbourne Declaration on
Educational Goals for Young Australians. The declaration commits all
Australian governments to meet two high level educational goals for education
at all stages of a child's schooling and is supported by the MCEECDYA Four Year
Plan that outlines the key strategies that will be followed to meet the goals.
The two educational goals are:
Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence; and
All young Australians become successful learners, confident and
creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.
The key strategies from the MCEECDYA Four Year Plan that
support them are:
developing stronger partnerships
supporting quality teaching and school leadership
strengthening early childhood education
enhancing middle years development
supporting senior years of schooling and youth transitions
promoting world-class curriculum and assessment
improving educational outcomes for Indigenous youth and
disadvantaged young Australians, especially those from low socioeconomic
strengthening accountability and transparency.
ACARA were given the responsibility under the Four Year Plan and the
Declaration to manage NAPLAN and to 'link assessment to the national curriculum
Why was NAPLAN introduced?
Like many of the previous testing regimes, NAPLAN was introduced to
identify students at an early stage who were not meeting minimum standards in
literacy and numeracy. Professor Joy Cummings explained in her submission that
the process for establishing minimum standards was established through the Hobart
Declaration in 1989 where 'Ministers of Education agreed to a plan to map appropriate
knowledge and skills for English literacy. These literacy goals included listening,
speaking, reading and writing.'
Professor Cummings goes on to explain that these goals were expanded further
throughout the 1990s:
National literacy goals and subgoals were also developed in
the National Literacy (and Numeracy) Plan during the 1990s, including:
...comprehensive assessment of all students by teachers as
early as possible in the first years of schooling...to ensure
that...literacy needs of all students are adequately addressed and to intervene
as early as possible to address the needs of those students identified as
at risk of not making adequate progress towards the national...literacy
goals....use [of] rigorous State-based assessment procedures to assess students
against the Year 3 benchmark for...reading, writing and spelling for 1998 onward
Professor Cummings added that to achieve these goals national
standardised testing would be introduced to ensure consistency across the
educational spectrum to ensure that:
...every child commencing school from 1998 will achieve a
minimum acceptable literacy and numeracy standard within four years
(recognising that a very small percentage of students suffer from severe
Other submitters agreed that the primary concern of national testing and
assessment was to assist in identifying the progress of students at key stages
in their educational development. Dr Kerry Hempenstall from the School of
Health Sciences at RMIT University highlighted the importance of early
assessment that allows for early intervention:
[A]ssessment can assist in the identification and management of students at-risk
even before reading instruction commences. They can also help identify those
making slow progress at any year level. This is especially important given the
usually stable learning trajectory from the very early stages.
Dr Hempenstall also suggested that the assessment of the intervention
itself can inform its effectiveness:
specific interventions are implemented, appropriate reading assessment can
provide on-going information about the effectiveness of the chosen approach. 
NAPLAN's stated objectives
ACARA stated in their submission that the overall objective of NAPLAN is
to provide education authorities, schools, parents and the local community with
quality data. This allows the various stakeholders to:
Better target resource allocation;
Identify areas of strength and need for individual students;
Measure how their child is performing against a national average;
Measure how a local school is performing against schools in
similar areas or socio-economic circumstances.
ACARA stresses that NAPLAN cannot bring about improvement to student
outcomes directly, but can provide valuable data to schools and education
authorities that may allow improvement to take place:
It should be emphasised that
a tool to inform
not an improver of educational outcomes. It is not
the tests that will improve students’
literacy and numeracy skills, but
the way students’ results (including school, system and
used by teachers,
schools and systems to identify strengths and weaknesses, particularly in teaching practices and programs, that will improve student outcomes. 
Whether ACARA's description of the purpose of NAPLAN constitutes a clear
statement of objectives was a question raised in a number of submissions. The
Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) suggested that while
data from assessments 'has the potential to be useful...it needs to be used in
ways that improve learning'.
The Queensland Catholic Education Commission was of a similar view and said
that the ACARA website describes what NAPLAN does rather that what it is
intended to achieve. As such it is difficult to assess whether it has
successfully achieved its aim or not.
The School of Education at the University of Queensland submitted that
the stated objectives of NAPLAN are not 'clearly communicated in any of the
available documents' which is allowing NAPLAN to be used for 'a range of
purposes beyond its stated objectives'.
Other submitters focussed on the data collection potential of the
NAPLAN tests, and how it could be utilised to improve student outcomes. The
School of Education at the University of South Australia (the School) endorsed
some elements of the program:
NAPLAN has made a contribution to providing schools with data to analyse progress; school leaders with a sense of trends
occurring in their school that can inform program and policy decisions; and governments with regional data that can inform how to best support and resources areas of strength and need (Dooner, 2001).
However the School was circumspect about whether there was evidence to
support the conclusion that NAPLAN is benefitting all schools and students.
Some of the issues that may prevent potential benefits being accessed by all
schools and students include:
NAPLAN’s limited coverage of content and skills and the time allocated for sitting the test.
The need for other sources of evidentiary data, including data gathered by teachers in a knowledgeable and principled way, to inform practices that improve learning outcomes.
Limitations of NAPLAN as a non-‐diagnostic assessment procedure for informing
improved student outcomes.
Validity issues related to attributing students’ test scores to school performance and teaching effectiveness.
Cultural and linguistic appropriateness and accessibility of NAPLAN’s content. 
Fintona Girls' School in Victoria commented that it is impossible for
the tests to 'reflect the core elements of curriculum documents used in the
different States and Territories', which is one of the objectives set out in
the NAPLAN literature.
This is due to a lack of flexibility in its delivery across the country:
...the recent implementation of the National Curriculum has
shown that there is a necessity for flexibility in these curricula in order to
address the differing educational priorities of States and Territories.
The objectives of NAPLAN at a macro level are clear. However evaluations
of their effectiveness at that level are relatively meaningless, and highly
dependent on the perception of a particular stakeholder.
The remainder of the report examines the various objectives as set by
ACARA in more detail, but the committee's broad view of the objectives is that
they need to be broken down to a meaningful level where each element can be
separately measured and evaluated for its effectiveness. They then need to be
communicated in a more accessible form so that schools, students, parents and
the wider community all understand what the tests are intended to achieve, with
regular evaluation to determine whether they are being as effective as
NAPLAN as a diagnostic test
Most submitters had views on whether the aspirations of NAPLAN being a
useful diagnostic test were met. Views were constructed by analysing the tests
themselves, and by the way the data from the tests are used.
Fiona Mueller, literacy educator, raised concerns about whether a test
with a multiple choice element could be considered diagnostic:
Apart from the absence of any recognisable structure in these
tests, the multiple-choice design makes them virtually invalid as diagnostic or
teaching tools. One of the most serious failings of the papers is that there is
no opportunity for the students to show how they have arrived at a solution.
The Australian Literacy Educators' Association (ALEA) submitted that
while NAPLAN is intended to be a diagnostic test it cannot, by virtue of the
tests themselves, provide the same specific diagnostic outcomes as formative
...provide students with specific feedback about the qualities
of their work with advice on how it can be improved to build the resilience of
students and support a classroom culture of successful learning.
ALEA continued that, given the time delay of five months for
the results of the assessment to arrive back in schools, 'it cannot be argued
that they are assessing for learning'.
The delay highlighted by ALEA in returning test results was a theme for
a number of submitters. The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers
cited the delay in the results of the tests being returned to students as
evidence that it is not an effective diagnostic tool for assessing students and
addressing their specific learning needs:
Any objectives relating to diagnosis at the student level are
compromised by the time it takes for schools and teachers to receive student
Margaret Wu and David Hornsby, literacy educators, also denied the
diagnostic effectiveness of the tests, pointing to the time it takes for the
results to be known as one of the factors:
Even if the NAPLAN tests were diagnostic, the 5-month delay in providing
the results would make them useless
for informing teaching.
As discussed in the committee's interim report, the Whitlam Institute,
in conjunction with the University of Melbourne is conducting a project titled:
The Experience of Education: The impacts of high stakes testing on school
students and their families – An Educator's Perspective. As part of the
project a survey of educators was conducted to gather views on NAPLAN. One of
the questions asked in the survey was whether the tests were a diagnostic tool
for teachers. The survey found that 58 percent of teachers 'believing that
NAPLAN was not a diagnostic tool', while two thirds of Principals believed it
The survey report posited that this variation in perception of NAPLAN as
a diagnostic tool could be explained by considering how the data is used by a
teacher who is primarily concerned with individual students, as opposed to the
principal who is looking at the overall performance of a school:
It may be that at the school level, aggregate NAPLAN data can
point to areas of the curriculum where average student achievement is low (with
implications for Principals as they work to determine professional learning
directions for their school) and are thus seen as useful by school leadership.
In contrast, at the level of the individual student, the delay between testing
and results makes the data less useful for teachers working to ensure
individual students are developing in each of the areas covered. 
The Tasmanian Department of Education considers NAPLAN to be an
effective assessment tool for both teachers and parents. In its submission it
states that NAPLAN:
...enables parents/guardians to
made since the
child’s previous NAPLAN assessment.
Through various publications, the DoE encourages parents/guardians to discuss children’s results and report with teachers.
In summary, NAPLAN data is
a key measure for teachers and parents/ guardians
as to whether or not young Tasmanians are meeting
outcomes and is used diagnostically to support improvement.
Christian Schools Australia Limited had reservations around how the data
produced by the tests were used, but was positive in general about the
potential of data as a diagnostic tool:
The use of a nationally consistent diagnostic instrument is
widely accepted. It provides the opportunity to tap into a rich and deep
source of comparative data and more meaningful information for teachers. NAPLAN
used in this way we believe to be highly effective and highly beneficial. This
function should remain the primary purpose of NAPLAN with accountability
requirements clearly and explicitly playing a secondary role.
The committee noted evidence suggesting teachers and student teachers do
not receive sufficient training or support to enable them to properly use or
analyse data obtained by NAPLAN testing. ACARA noted the recommendation in the
2013 Senate report Teaching and Learning – maximising our investment in
Australian schools that advised teachers needed more support in learning
how to use evaluative data. ACARA submitted that states and territories already
have sophisticated data analysis tools available for teachers to access;
however, it is clear that more work could be done to support teachers in
becoming skilled at interpreting and using NAPLAN data.
The Australian Education Union also commented that there is capacity for
improvement in the training and skills of teachers in the application of NAPLAN
Can we do more in terms of professional development of
teachers on the use of data, the interpretation of data and the application of
information in informing our teaching and learning? I think we can always grow
in that regard.
The committee does not believe that the current administration of NAPLAN
leads to it being as effective a diagnostic test as it could be. A number of
elements inform this conclusion, such as the methodology of the test, which
includes the use of multiple choice, and the exclusion of teacher assessment of
the student. However the principle consideration is the length of time the
results take to be disseminated to the students and teachers. The school year
moves at a rapid pace and the turnaround of many months does not allow for
meaningful intervention to ensure that students across the spectrum of
development are given the appropriate support they require, either to meet
minimum standards or to challenge them to reach their full potential.
The committee accepts that the introduction of NAPLAN Online should
allow for much improved turnaround in the results, and is of the strong opinion
that this should be a high priority in designing the online systems for the
The committee recommends the quick turnaround of test results should
receive the highest priority in the design of NAPLAN Online with achievable and
measurable targets built in to the system.
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