Parents across NSW will soon get their child’s NAPLAN report card. NAPLAN is Australia’s annual assessment of student learning in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.
This year, the 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 spelling and grammar.
This is a good move. It means parents will have better information about whether their child is on track at school.
Student report cards from teachers are helpful, but NAPLAN provides an independent and objective view of a student’s learning, and how this compares to other students across the country.
Gone is NAPLAN’s old ‘national minimum standard’, which was set far too low to be meaningful for parents and teachers.
For instance, to reach minimum standard in punctuation, a Year 3 student only needed to be able to use full stops and basic capital letters like in the words ‘Sydney’ and ‘Taylor Swift’. And the Year 9 national minimum for reading was achieved by the average Year 5 student.
The minimum standard was set so low, very few students fell short – last year in NSW, fewer than one in 10 Year 9 students failed to meet it in reading.
This low standard created a risk that many parents and teachers had a false sense of confidence in some children’s progress and too many struggling students did not get the extra support they needed.
This year, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment, and Reporting Authority – which is responsible for NAPLAN – has suggested that as many as three in 10 students may not meet the new, more rigorous proficiency benchmark.
For many parents who thought their child was on track, learning that her or she is actually struggling may be hard to hear.
But ultimately, this knowledge will empower parents to work with teachers to make sure their child receives the targeted support they need.
So what do you need to know to understand your child’s results?
The new NAPLAN will mark students in four proficiency categories for each test: ‘Exceeding’ (the highest), ‘Strong’, ‘Developing’, and ‘Needs additional support’ (the lowest).
Parents and teachers should not assume that students in these two latter categories will just naturally catch up. Just like students in the ‘Needs additional support’ category, students in the ‘Developing’ category may require targeted help to get back on track.
The quicker they get this help, the better. Struggling students tend to fall further and further behind if they can’t keep up with the pace and content of teaching in-class.
Unfortunately, the names of these categories are confusing. Parents will need to look closely at their child’s actual results to get a clear picture of their learning and what the next steps might be.
But the new NAPLAN report card is better than the old. It will give more parents the information they need to help their child.
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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