This year, the NAPLAN report card will look very different. For the first time, parents will be told whether their child has met the new “proficient” benchmark for their level, in reading, writing, numeracy, and grammar. With four proficiency categories, all with new terminology, what does this mean for parents and teachers? Grattan Institute Associates Nick Parkinson and Dominic Jones discuss the new-look NAPLAN.
Dominic Jones: Hello and welcome to the Grattan Podcast. I’m Dominic Jones, an associate at Grattan Institute. Back in March this year, nearly 1. 3 million Australian students sat the NAPLAN tests. Results are in for this year’s test, which means parents across the country will soon be opening up their child’s NAPLAN report card.
This year, the report card students bring home will look different. For the first time, parents will be told whether their child has met the new proficiency benchmark for their year level. Here to discuss what the changes mean for parents is Nick Parkinson, an associate in Grattan’s education team. Hey Nick, how’s it going?
Nick Parkinson: Hi Dom, it’s great to be here.
Dominic Jones: So, to start us off, Nick. What is the NAPLAN and why is it so important? It’s a great
Nick Parkinson: question Dom, so you probably remember NAPLAN or the National Assessment Program in Literacy and Literacy from when we were at school and we had to fill in those little shaded bubbles. Well NAPLAN looks a bit different today, it’s online and with that change to online has also been a change to the school and the proficiency scale.
And that’s what we’ll be talking about today. So just by way of context, NAPLAN is a suite of tests in literacy and numeracy that are sat by year 3, 5, 7, and 9 students every year. It’s really helpful because it’s a health check on the education system. And so policy makers, people like ourselves at Grattan Institute, look closely at NAPLAN to see where things are going really well in the education system and places where we can improve and focus attention.
For parents, NAPLAN results are really helpful too, because they’re an independent view on how their child is tracking. Right,
Dominic Jones: and so you were telling me that this year, students results are going to look a bit different. Can you tell me more about what families should expect?
Nick Parkinson: You’re right that this year’s results will look different.
Previously, when parents received their students results, those results were reported against 10 proficiency bands. What we were hearing is that that was a bit of a confusing way to report results. This year the results will look different. They’ve been collapsed into four categories. Those categories are, for students who are above a new or rigorous proficiency benchmark, strong and exceeding, and for students who fall short of that new proficiency benchmark, the categories are, at the bottom end, needs additional support, and after that, developing.
So this is quite a dramatic change. It’s both a simplification of what were previously the 10 bands. But it’s also a kind of ratcheting up with the rigger of the proficiency benchmark, which is now base set higher. Right.
Dominic Jones: Simplifying sounds like a good idea to me. I remember trying to find where my little dot sat in amongst all the bands and not really knowing what it all meant.
So, that sounds like a positive, but is there anything else we need to be aware about?
Nick Parkinson: You’re right, that it is a positive, and I, I too remember trying to figure out exactly What it meant, there was a black dot, where did I see it? What this year, the changes mean is that, as I mentioned before, that there’s been an increase in the expectation.
Previously, the national minimum staggered, which was the, that proficiency cutoff, was set too low. We were hearing this from teachers who, who said it didn’t adequately represent those students who were able to access the teaching in class. And we also knew it from the international tests which Australian students sit.
So 15 year olds, for example, sit the PISA test, that’s the Program of International Student Assessment, by the OECD. And in those tests, about 40 percent or more of students fall short of our national proficiency standard. In comparison, for NAPLAN at Year 9. We were seeing around 10 percent of students fall short each year.
So it just wasn’t truly capturing where students were at and was giving us, as Australia, a false sense of confidence about how students were progressing with their learning.
Dominic Jones: Right. So it seems good that we’ve got this new benchmark, which will give us a bit of a better idea, but it seems like the way that the different bands or performance categories are categorised is still a bit confusing.
Could you break down a bit further what each category actually means?
Nick Parkinson: Yeah, Dom, you’re right, that overall the change is a positive change, but there is some confusion, so let’s unpick that. We should begin with the top two categories, so those categories for students who’ve met the expectations for their year level at the time of testing.
So those categories, as a reminder, they are strong and exceeding. The caution for parents is that strong is a really broad category. It includes students who just scraped past that new proficiency cutoff, as well as students who are below the national average. So for parents who are starting to receive results this year, they should look closely.
The devil is in the detail within this strong category. Given that there is such a span of achievement within that category.
Dominic Jones: Right, so those are the upper categories. What about the lower two proficiency levels?
Nick Parkinson: So there, there’s also could be a bit of confusion here, so it’s important to unpick them. For both of these categories needs additional support and developing, students have not met the standard.
So just to be really clear, if a student is in developing, they have not met the expectations at the time of learning and may not be on track. What the cautionary tale again here is that a student who’s in developing may also need additional support. So while they don’t have the category needs additional support, we should see that developing category really as a cohort of students who’d benefit from, from some additional support to help them get back on track.
So that as school gets more difficult, they’re able to access all the complex things by asking of students.
Dominic Jones: Right. Okay, that’s a bit clearer to me, but it sounds like we might have a few more students who are falling into this sort of need support or is below the standard this year. Can you tell me a bit more about what this is going to mean for schools and parents in understanding where their kid is at?
Nick Parkinson: Yeah, your intuition is right, Dom, that because we’ve shifted the goalposts, it’s possible that more students will fall short. One of the big motivations behind this change was to give us a more realistic sense of how students were going, and that was why we’ve increased. That proficiency cutoff, but the consequences that the Australian curriculum and assessment authority, which is the body that runs now has indicated that as many as three in 10 students may fall short.
So what does this mean? Practically for you’re a parent, you’ve got a year nine student, they sat in that plan two years ago on year seven, maybe they were above the national minimum standard. There were no red flags, and now your child has come home and brought home a report card that notes they’re in either developing or needs additional support.
Well, this may come, you know, it’s hard news for a parent. It may come as a shock, and parents should be bracing potentially for that shock this week. But ultimately, that is such important and empowering information for a parent to have. It means that they can come to school, have a discussion with the teacher who’s an expert in the class, and has lots of additional information to supplement what NatPlan sets.
And that teacher, along with the parents, can figure out What’s going to really help that Year 9 student, who’s now found out that they’re not on track, get back on track.
Dominic Jones: Right, yeah, it sounds like some really useful information that parents and teachers will be getting this week. So, if we have these big changes coming in, in this year, what does that mean about comparing our results from this year to all those previous years that NAPLAN’s been around?
Nick Parkinson: It’s a good question, Darwin. I can see the kind of policy thinking here. Well, if we’ve changed the time series, What does that mean for how we test whether or not the system is improving? It’s a question that remains somewhat unanswered. So, as it stands, we cannot compare this year’s results to previous year’s results.
Some schools, which have been working really hard to put changes in place and were hoping to see improvements, might hear this come as hard news. Grattan Institute would be strongly encouraging for more work to be done to link the 2023 results with the 15 years, the historical data that we’ve built up since 2008.
Dominic Jones: Yeah, well at Grattan, we love our data, so it would certainly be a shame to see all those years go to waste. Yeah,
Nick Parkinson: that’s right, Delmo. Remember, you know, you and I, when we would have done that plan, it’d be nice to be able to compare across all those cohorts and keep that time series as well.
Dominic Jones: See how far the kids have come, maybe.
That’s exactly right. Well thanks Heapsnip, I’ll definitely, and will definitely be watching this space eagerly. I look forward to hearing more about the Naplan State Results when they come out later this year. For the listeners, if you’d like to talk to us about the Naplan Results, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
You can find us on social at Grattan Inst on Twitter, and at Grattan Institute on all other social media networks. All of Grattan’s work is freely available online and supported through the generous donations of people like yourself. Thanks again for joining us and tuning in. Take care.
Nick is a Senior Associate in Grattan’s Education Program. Before joining Grattan, Nick was a consultant at Nous Group where he contributed to projects on school culture, student assessment, and occupational safety.
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