This piece was published in the NT Suns on May 15 2018.


Last week, students in all Australian Schools were involved with the 11th NAPLAN testing program. Those in year three, five, seven and nine were tested for competence in literacy and numeracy.

NAPLAN is one of the most enduring testing regimes in Australian education. Very few “initiatives“ have lasted as long. However, rarely has a year gone by without a huge amount of conversation on the value of this program.

In his recent (Gonski 2.0) set of recommendations on educational futures David Gonski suggested NAPLAN should be replaced by more specialised individual learning instruction. The New South Wales Minister for Education Tom Stokes, was quick to suggest that NAPLAN had passed its use by date and was no longer relevant. His contention was that this testing program has become an instrument to compare schools with each other, rather than primarily focussing on student outcomes .

When introduced, the idea of NAPLAN was to test students in terms of competencies important to their future development. The intention was that it would enable schools to identify areas of strength and need for students. Programs could then be developed to extend students in strength areas while offering further learning in areas that needed ongoing attention.

It’s true to say that this testing program has become one of comparing schools with schools. Schools are either elated or deflated on the basis of data outcomes. NAPLAN has become an instrument used by schools in a competitive sense. As the program time approaches each year, children in the grades to be tested often undergo extensive NAPLAN testing preparation to a point where they must become totally frustrated.

When data comes out each year, school leaders and teachers devote a huge amount of time to meetings dissecting results. Without doubt, NAPLAN has become both a fixation and preoccupation. In addition, it is hugely expensive and over time has absorbed hundreds of millions of educational dollars.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham is keen to hang onto NAPLAN. His viewpoint being tentatively supported by other ministers at state and territory level. A significant review would be timely. The question “has NAPLAN helped in lifting levels of student competency in Australian settings”, should be examined. Australian students were recently compared with their peers in 41 comparable countries. Our students in competency terms placed in 39th position. It is apparent that during the past decade (the time NAPLAN has been an Australian Educational priority) student competence has headed south! It’s time to discover reasons for this alarming decline.

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