Measuring student progress: A state-by-state report card

by Peter Goss, Julie Sonnemann

22.10.2018 report

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A new Grattan Institute national report card on NAPLAN school results reveals big differences between the states on the rate of progress students make over the course of their schooling.

Queensland is the star performer in primary school. Queensland primary students make two months more progress in reading than the national average between Year 3 and Year 5, and about one month more progress in numeracy over the same two years.

NSW stretches advantaged secondary students, but is not so good at supporting disadvantaged secondary students.

Victoria is the reverse: students in disadvantaged Victorian schools make four months more progress than the national average from Year 7 to Year 9, but the state does not do as well in stretching advantaged students.

Contrary to popular perception, Tasmanian and Northern Territory schools are not under-performers. The report shows that their students progress broadly in line with students in schools of similar socio-economic advantage in other states.

South Australia’s primary students make slightly less progress than the national average; Western Australia’s make progress roughly on par with the national average.

The ACT is the worst performer on the Grattan Institute’s measure of student progress, which takes account of the fact that some states and territories have more advantaged students than others. On this like-for-like basis, students in the ACT make two to three months less progress than the national average in both primary school (between Year 3 and Year 5) and secondary school (between Year 7 and Year 9).

The report card challenges the idea that students in Australia’s high-achieving schools are ‘cruising’. In fact, students in low-achieving schools make only half the progress in numeracy from Year 7 to Year 9 as students in high-achieving schools, and 30 per cent less progress in reading.

This finding should ring alarm bells in cabinet rooms and education departments across Australia. If governments are serious about delivering on the Gonski vision of ‘at least one year’s growth in learning for every student every year’, then disadvantaged schools must be a big priority.

Whether a student attends a government, Catholic or independent school has little impact on how fast they progress in NAPLAN. Low rates of progress in regional and rural schools are mainly explained by their high levels of disadvantaged students. And whether a student goes to a big or small school has little relationship to how well they will learn.

The report card provides new insight on what’s happening in schools and contains important lessons for education policy makers.

Governments should investigate why students make more progress in some states than others, with the goal of identifying the teacher practices and school policies that produce the best results for our children.

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