Does NAPLAN's revised dates pass the test?

13 March 2023

By Professor Ken Purnell

The changes to NAPLAN and  the National Assessment Plan (NAP):

  • NAPLAN for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will move to earlier in the year from its recent second week of May to mid-March from Term One of 2023. These results are publicly reported by ACARA on the MySchool website.
  • The NAP triennial opt-in program for schools for Year 6 and 10 students will become annual, and phased in with Science in 2024, Civics and Citizenship in 2025 and Digital Literacy in 2026.
    These results will not be publicly reported by ACARA.

Are the changes worth it? For some, the answer is yes, absolutely! But for many, it is a resounding no!

The latter will see it as a further impost to the already perceived ongoing annual burden on students, schools, parents, carers and schooling authorities around Australia. It adds to what is already seen as too heavy and will take even more valuable time from teaching and learning in other areas of the Australian Curriculum.

The old ‘teach what you test and test what you teach’ comes into play. That which is not to be tested nationally is seen as being of lesser worth. Just at a time when educators and the community are appreciating The Arts, HPE and other curriculum areas more for the very positive contributions they make to the achievements and wellness of our students.

On the yes side, benefits include schools and teachers getting student assessment data early in the year to assist in planning learning experiences related to literacy and numeracy. The data can be used to inform teaching and learning tailored to class, group and individual student needs. That is of enormous value!

The National Assessment Plan (NAP) is to be voluntary and annual in Science, Civics and Citzenship, and Digital Literacy, and like NAPLAN will no doubt provide valuable data to inform the learning experiences for students. So, to what extent the data is representative of the cohort will be questionable unless large numbers of schools across Australia opt-in.

But for many, there is a strong argument to make the burden of NAPLAN less, not more with NAP being added. And for resources being ‘wasted’ annually to get much the same results in each jurisdiction – some argue strongly that such human and financial resources could be best used to improve student achievements and wellness than testing them annually.  

There is, of course, the unfortunate spin-off where NAPLAN results have taken on far more of a high-stakes nature with jobs and promotions sometimes dependent on seeing improvements. That is very stressful and adds unnecessarily to already overworked educators in schools.

The reality is that much valuable school time is taken in test preparation as good results are demanded by schooling authorities and school principals. This filters down quickly to teachers and students when the principal has targets to meet. And that is all for a slice of the curriculum which displaces many other highly valuable learning experiences.

. Ken picture

And, of course, it promotes gaming by a few where students who need to be identified as having greater literacy and numeracy requirements are withheld from the tests to make the overall results look better. And for others, it provides a valuable incentive of a ‘personal best’ to improve in literacy, numeracy, etc. for individual students, groups and year levels. A good thing!

The verdict: Is Australia getting value for NAPLAN and NAP or might we rethink what we do and how to champion the professionalism of our teachers as is done in high-performing counties in international tests? Personally, I would prefer the resources be used on enhancing our teaching workforce for the benefit of the achievements and wellness – including mental health – for all Australian students.