Education: 10 years of NAPLAN testing haven't seen an increase in students' numeracy and literacy skills

My Year 9 daughter was one of a million students who sat for the National Assessment Plan – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Did she open a book beforehand? No. 

Did we, as parents, get a morsel of information sent home about the test in the days leading up to it? No.

Well, there you go. So much for “NAPLAN fever” that has supposedly gripped schools around the state, but apparently not so much in the North West NSW. 

Last year, it was another matter. My daughter, a newcomer to Australia, came home in a panic stating that she would be prevented from sitting for the HSC if she could not pass the “Napalm or something like that.” And that was the first we heard of NAPLAN.

Now, in its 10th year, the test hasn’t changed much, but my daughter’s attitude to it has shifted since February when euphoria gripped her school as it was announced that Year 9 students in NSW who did not reach the minimum standard in the NAPLAN tests would no longer be at risk of failing to get their HSC.

With the unnecessary pressure lifted, the test lost its importance – at least, in my daughter’s eyes. But has it also lost its meaning? 

It seems to be just as controversial as ever with NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes being quoted as saying that it should be “scrapped” altogether.  

The goal of NAPLAN was to track performance and for teachers to use the test to identify problems in the curriculum and to assess whether the solutions being implemented were having any effect. But ten years down the track, it seems that there has been negligible benefit with little changes in the performance of students in numeracy and literacy. 

Teachers don’t need the NAPLAN to help them identify deficits, but judging by Australia’s drop in OECD rankings, the quality of education needs to be addressed. 

As for students themselves, their NAPLAN results are not shared in a way to help them better understand what they need to do to improve their own efforts as learners.

“The test wasn’t that easy. It had a lot of hard words,” said my daughter, unperturbed, at the end of the first day. “But don’t pay too much attention to it when you get the results. I got 18/20 in my last English exam, so it doesn’t really matter whether I failed NAPLAN or passed.”