Every year the taking of NAPLAN examinations and the dissemination of NAPLAN results generates considerable media coverage and community discussion about schools and school education outcomes.
This paper discusses the origins, objectives and main features of NAPLAN, and sets out its position within the national education policy framework. It also considers the extensive criticisms that accompanied NAPLAN’s introduction in 2008, including claims that NAPLAN is a form of “high-stakes” testing.
The focus of the paper is on NSW, where NAPLAN is a key measure of State education performance. One of NSW’s 12 Premier’s Priorities is to “increase the proportion of NSW students in the top two NAPLAN bands by 8%” for reading and numeracy. It is also a State Priority to “increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the top two NAPLAN bands for reading and numeracy by 30%".
NSW’s NAPLAN results for reading and numeracy are examined in detail. With the exception of the 2015 Year 3 results for reading, which saw a statistically significant increase when compared to the 2008 results, NSW’s NAPLAN outcomes for reading and numeracy have been statistically stable.
Results are also discussed in light of such key demographic and socio-economic factors as sex, Indigenous status and geographic location. One finding is that female students outperformed males in reading but not in numeracy. Indigenous students were found to perform worse than non-Indigenous students in reading and numeracy. Lower NAPLAN outcomes were also found for children in foster care and for children with speech and language problems.
The paper also explores the use of NAPLAN for researching what does and does not work in school education.
Criticisms notwithstanding, NAPLAN has become a landmark feature of the Australian and NSW education landscape.