National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy
Sign announcing tests, Greenbank State School, 2014
|Developer / administrator||Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority|
|Knowledge / skills tested||Numeracy, literacy|
|Purpose||To provide a snapshot of a student's current reading, writing, language and numeracy skills|
|Offered||Once a year|
|Countries / regions||Australia|
|Scores / grades used by||Schools (grades 3, 5, 7 and 9)|
The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is a series of tests focused on basic skills that are administered annually to Australian students. These standardised tests assess students' reading, writing, language (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy and are administered by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). The National Assessment Program is overseen by the Council of Australian Governments Education Council.
NAPLAN was introduced in 2008. ACARA has managed the tests from 2010 onwards. The tests are designed to determine if Australian students are achieving outcomes. There has been a great deal of contention in the educational community as to whether the tests are appropriate, whether teachers are teaching as they normally would or teaching to the test, and what the results of the test are being used for. The data obtained from the NAPLAN tests are collated and used to show all schools' average performance against other schools in the country on the Government My School website.
The tests are also designed to be carried out on the same days all across Australia in any given year. Parents are able to decide whether their children take the test or not. The vast majority of Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students participate. Although for year three students, they have to pass with a 70% mark in order to go through to Year 4. This is to prepare young children towards competitive examinations.
Prior to the introduction of NAPLAN the testing of literacy and numeracy was done individually by each jurisdiction. According to New South Wales Public Schools the NAPLAN tests, which commenced in 2008, were instigated after the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) determined that "national testing in literacy and numeracy would proceed for the full cohort of students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 from 2008 onward". The NAPLAN tests would be used to determine if students were performing either above, at or below the National Minimum Standard in the areas of reading, language conventions, writing and numeracy skills for their particular year level. The emergence of a national schooling system in Australia is part of a shift towards making educational policy part of national economic policy in response to globalization.
According to ACARA the main purpose of the NAPLAN tests is to measure whether literacy and numeracy skills and knowledge that provide the critical foundation for other learning and for their productive and rewarding participation in the community. In essence the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) influence brought about a series of tests to determine whether students being prepared for later life appropriately in the present day school system. The introduction of national literacy and numeracy tests in 2008 has provided consistency, comparability and transferability of information on students’ literacy and numeracy performance nationally.
|What is NAPLAN|
|Why NAPLAN is valuable|
The primary stakeholders are students, parents and teachers. According to a Parent's Brochure the NAPLAN test results will be used to assist students and parents in discussing student progress with teachers, identifying students who require "greater challenges or additional support", identifying teaching program strengths and weaknesses and allow for school program review and support".
The development of the NAP tests began in 1999 when the Australian ministers of education worked together to produce the Adelaide declaration on national goals for schooling in the 21st century which sought to make all young Australian successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens.
ACARA claims in their MySchool fact sheet that "processes have been put in place to ensure that NAPLAN is a valid and reliable measurement of students' literacy and numeracy ability". It further goes on to state that "NAPLAN has a number of purposes including reporting national and jurisdictional achievements in literacy and numeracy as well as providing accurate and reliable measures of student and school performance. These purposes are carefully considered during the NAPLAN development process".
The development of the test includes input from indigenous experts from around the country to ensure the tests are designed to be inclusive of all students. Intense community pressure on school performance has led to the growth of a test preparation industry.
Each test contains between 30 and 40 questions. Most students complete the tests by using a pencil and paper. In Victoria, Pearson Australia has been responsible for collecting NAPLAN data and marking some tests. In Queensland the printing and distribution of tests, data collection and some marking is undertaken by Fuji Xerox Document Management Solutions which also processes tests from South Australia.
In 2016, some schools trialled online testing. In 2018 around 200,000 students sat online versions of the tests. It had been claimed that results from both styles of test would be able to be accurately compared, but doubts about that claim led to a delay in the release of preliminary results on the scheduled date of 8 August. Concern was expressed about delays in announcing results reducing their usefulness.
Analysis and evaluation
Robert Randall, Chief Executive Officer, ACARA, 
The tests are not a high stakes event in a student's education. It is a snapshot of a student's current abilities. The tests do not measure higher-order thinking skills or creativity. NAPLAN is a tool intended to be used for school improvement.
Validity and reliability
The down side of NAPLAN can be seen when teachers are teaching to the test rather than teaching to the curriculum as can be seen in Victoria where according to Perkins (2010) teachers have been told to "teach explicitly for the national tests that are the cornerstone of the Federal Government's controversial My School website".
The Validity and Reliability in Quality Assessment in relation to NAPLAN can be summed up by ACARA in that they use an equating process to "provide a high level of assurance as to the reliability of comparisons between years" and that this process ensures that "any test difference has been taken into account before making statements about one year's results compared to the next".
Flexibility and fairness
On the point of fairness it is important not to just rate the fairness of the test itself but to also rate the procedure of giving the test as well. Apart from the fact that the test is given mid-year so not all learning may have been successfully completed as would be expected by the end of the year for that particular grade, writes that Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said some schools "probably have devoted too much time to NAPLAN".
Although the test itself is extremely fair in that all students perform the same test nationwide, it also does not seem to take into account the fact that students in schools don’t just comprise the average but also include the likes of special needs students. ACARA points out that "Students can be exempted from one or more NAPLAN tests if they have significant intellectual or functional disability or if they are from a non-English-speaking background and arrived in Australia less than one year before the tests". It is understood therefore that NAPLAN is designed to test Literacy and Numeracy levels in students considered to be normal. There is also the consideration to be given to the fact that selective schools can pick and choose which students attend their schools giving them unfair advantage in attaining higher scores in almost any national assessment and especially in NAPLAN.
As far as authenticity is concerned in the NAPLAN tests there are elements of real-world application and there are elements that are not real-world. One of the important points to consider however with the NAPLAN tests is that, especially in relation to numeracy, not all areas can have immediately foreseeable real-world application however that does not necessarily mean that the questions are unimportant. For the most part, the NAPLAN tests do seem to have quite a bit of real-world authenticity about them.
|3||1 to 6||2|
|5||3 to 8||4|
|7||4 to 9||5|
|9||5 to 10||6|
|Source: National Minimum Standards|
The NAPLAN Data Service identify areas of strength or weakness within a school or classroom. At the classroom level, the Item Analysis Report, the Writing Criteria Report and (for numeracy in particular) the Assessment Area Report provide powerful diagnostic information which can be used to complement school assessment and to inform the planning of teaching and learning programs. Reports are usually delivered in September. Each student tested receives a student report. Schools receive detailed results as to how each student answered individual questions, but do not have access to what the questions were. The tests provide an indication, not a fine grading, of a student's performance. Parents are only given general feedback as to which percentile band their children are in for each type of test. ACARA does not provide the magnitude of the measurement error or the imprecision of the tests.
On average in almost all NAPLAN tests home-schooled students perform better than students who attend schools. Some schools, particularly small ones, are reporting such significant changes in year to year results that the results are meaningless.
The data from NAPLAN is collated onto the MySchool website. The Australian Primary Principals Association does not support the publication of results in a way that allows for easy intra-school comparisons. The results are graded along a series of ten bands based on achieving complex solutions to questions and spanning all age groups. Data analysis packages are available to schools. Some school are using the results from NAPLAN on an individual basis when making decisions regarding enrolment. Tests results are directly linked to federal funding agreements with the states.
The delay between testing and the release of results has been criticised for taking too long to be useful within the same year. The test results have shown that since 2008 Year 3 students have gained at reading, grammar and writing skills. They have also revealed that improvements in spelling and numeracy were achieved by Year 5 students while the writing skills of Year 7 and 9 students have declined.
Availability of past tests
The 2008, 2009, and 2010 tests were available from the National Assessment Program website, but have been removed, although archived copies are still available from The Wayback Machine. The 2011 tests were never available due to copyright. The tests appear to have become more difficult over time, particularly from 2008 to 2009.
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