NAPLAN warning bells should not go unheeded

Ian Bushnell 17 December 2021 131
ACT Minister for Education Yvette Berry

ACT Minister for Education Yvette Berry is staunchly defending the Territory’s education system despite poor NAPLAN results. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

NAPLAN isn’t perfect, but its high time ACT Minister for Education Yvette Berry and directorate officials admit there is something not quite right about school performance in the ACT.

There are always caveats around standardised testing, and Ms Berry is right to argue it only captures student performance at one particular time, but the trends seem clear: standards are slipping and the disadvantage gap is growing.

When the ACT’s obvious socioeconomic edge is taken into account, performance is even worse.

A jurisdiction such as the ACT – probably the most highly educated and paid in the country – should be on top of the national ladder.

NAPLAN may not be the complete picture, but the data can be a useful guide and it suggests something is missing in the ACT’s classrooms.


READ ALSO: NAPLAN: ACT’s fall from grace continues amid worrying national performance gaps


Ms Berry will argue that ACT public schools are already rolling out programs to boost literacy and numeracy, we have the best teachers in the country, and the ACT’s education strategy is on track.

A staunch defender of ACT public schools and its teachers, Ms Berry continues to have faith while the evidence piles up that too many kids are not learning to read, write and do their sums.

‘Back to basics’ is a glib catchphrase that suggests some sort of educational golden age so a return to 1950s chalk and talk is no answer.

But it does seem that rudimentary skills and how to teach them are lacking, or being overwhelmed by an emphasis on self-directed, inquiry-based learning, free expression and the development of critical thinking.

And for all the assignments – often set at too young an age to be useful and the bane of parents – there appears to be little instruction in how to write, structure or research them.

We still seem to be recovering from the abandonment of grammar, phonics and mathematical basics such as times tables and mental arithmetic, along with sequential learning, so students have to master a level before moving on to the next.

Some students just aren’t being given the tools to be successful, often in an environment that isn’t conducive to learning. Osmosis is no substitute for explicit teaching, and in some cases repetition and the development of a memory muscle is the only way to build a platform for complex learning later on.

We’re talking parts and figures of speech, sentence structure, spelling, times tables and formulae.


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Technology such as calculators and premature access to the internet may be compounding these issues, undermining learning and cluttering the landscape.

The ability to be self-directed and possessing critical thinking skills are important – it’s just that without foundation skills, students won’t be as successful as they could be and some will just fall away, convinced they are failures.

It also seems the developmental stages of childhood are being ignored, with too much choice being given to students lacking the maturity to understand it.

Most parents will recognise at least some of these aspects in their children’s school experiences, and the Canberra Liberals have also raised some in their policy document.

They should not be fobbed off, or be seen as attacks on teachers, but examined and responded to.

The ACT’s NAPLAN results are not disastrous, but the Education Directorate should interrogate the data and review the present mix of its Future of Education Strategy.


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131 Responses to NAPLAN warning bells should not go unheeded
Corinne Marsh Corinne Marsh 12:04 am 24 Dec 21

The only good thing about naplan is that it prepares kids for sitting hsc exams. We don’t do exams in highschool besides prelims trials and hsc.

Hannah Robinson Hannah Robinson 6:58 pm 23 Dec 21

With the two years students and teachers have had surely this isn’t a shock. We should be applauding the educators that have powered through these times, not belittling their efforts with standardised testing results.

Julie Regan Julie Regan 6:34 pm 23 Dec 21

Ignore NAPLAN. Standardised testing has long been disproven as an inaccurate measure of student performance. NO MORE NAPLAN.

Bob Foster Bob Foster 3:26 pm 23 Dec 21

Bring back the cane

SJ De Costa SJ De Costa 9:39 am 23 Dec 21

My son diagnosed his own specific learning disorder in reading at age 15. He tested 5 years behind his peers but every year every teacher failed him by passing him and letting him slide further through the cracks. It's a disgrace, shame Shame aussie Education is your name. That's the public system, the Catholic system also let down my daughter as she tested 7 tears behind her peers.

Crtomir Kores Crtomir Kores 8:57 pm 22 Dec 21

I find it funny how so many are focused on Naplan. Imagine if Naplan was a road rules test to get your Learners licence. Would we be demanding the test be changed or abolished?

Sally Lee Sally Lee 8:41 pm 22 Dec 21

Teachers' aren't failing our children, the system is 😔

    Stephen Budge Stephen Budge 9:02 pm 23 Dec 21

    Sally Lee Still taking the pay to implement a system that you say doesn’t work.

    Justin Marks Justin Marks 11:42 pm 23 Dec 21

    Stephen Budge because it’s a job. Not to mention a lot of people say the system is bad yet can’t come up with an alternative solution.

Rob Duncan Rob Duncan 6:46 pm 22 Dec 21

Aaron Sykes Elizabeth Swan Luke Abdallah Keith Perry Peter Langham interesting read

    Peter Langham Peter Langham 7:28 pm 22 Dec 21

    https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/what-s-an-avocado-localising-naplan-questions-lifts-scores-20211209-p59g8b.html?fbclid=IwAR0OOY3Y7-PdJgDrHxdb2NvU9bJGmk8asxgrWGiqMCCSmZl1xFRmGVuZnaE

    Read this as well. Plenty of avocados in the ACT (I assume).

Nicky Vander-Poorten Nicky Vander-Poorten 5:41 pm 22 Dec 21

What is wrong with the powers that be?? NAPLAN has cost the country well over a billion dollars and has proved nothing! Schools that are in better demographics perform better! Added to that .. the well heeled schools do not have to admit any students they don’t want to. At my government school..kids who could barely speak English were forced to sit the test. I can’t believe after actually admitting the failure of NAPLAN .. the country is still administering it!!

Rob Healy Rob Healy 3:55 pm 22 Dec 21

In Finland there are no private schools nor external exams.

    Christie Hartfiel Christie Hartfiel 9:17 pm 22 Dec 21

    Actually around 10% of Finnish high schools are private, but paid for by the government. Imagine fully funded private schools in Australia! https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/finland/organisation-private-education_en

    Stephen Budge Stephen Budge 9:00 pm 23 Dec 21

    Rob Healy On Mars there are no students. What is your point . Finland have 5.5 million people Australia has 25.7 million. Apart from the no private schools and exams how is this relevant to ACT naplan results. Does this have relevance to ACT school outcomes? Sorry if I missed something.

Kirsten Baker Kirsten Baker 2:53 pm 22 Dec 21

Bring in some resemblance of a phone policy and the high school results might improve. However nothing should be judged on the last two years. The stress the kids (and teachers!) are carrying is enormous with everything going on.

Susana Targett Susana Targett 1:44 pm 22 Dec 21

What do you expect? Kids where virtually schooled locked up and some made to ware masks during the year.

    Mel Guy Mel Guy 4:34 pm 23 Dec 21

    Susana Targett naplan was in May, long before remote learning happened this year

    Susana Targett Susana Targett 4:52 pm 23 Dec 21

    Mel did you forget about 2020? I know kids that were still mentally struggling early this year

    Mel Guy Mel Guy 4:55 pm 23 Dec 21

    Susana Targett 2020 was 3 weeks of lockdown.

    Don’t buy into the naplan media beat up.

Bonnie Raven Scotland Bonnie Raven Scotland 12:11 pm 22 Dec 21

So we should teach our children that they should not to seek validation or measure their worth on their appearance, how many likes their selfie gets on insta or how many friends they have on facebook but when it comes to a Naplan score it's apparently ok?

Also after Two years of disruptions such as bushfires, lockdowns and restrictions that have impacted EVERYONE (except our well paid Government) and here is the Government, putting more guilt on already overworked teachers, students and parents for the sake of ACT's score in some "smarts" test against other states 🙄

Thanks for adding this lack of care as another reason I'll be homeschooling.

Mick Graham Mick Graham 11:20 am 22 Dec 21

As someone who was educated in a different state, I've got to say that the ACT College system puts kids at a huge disadvantage compared to their interstate rivals.

Whoever came up with the idea that self-directed learning is a good fit for every child needs their head read. That plus the class timings. 9am to 3pm every day thanks. None of this classes start at 1:30pm and then it's independent study nonsense. And does anyone know what happened to homework and essay writing? Learning is nothing without revision!

I'm not sure what the ACT Education Department thinks this is preparing kids for. It's certainly not getting them ready for real life or uni.

Troy Wood Isaac Troy Wood Isaac 9:33 am 22 Dec 21

Smart and wise comments by the Labor government here of the ACT. Other Labor governments would be wise to heed this call.

Jessica Katherine Jessica Katherine 9:02 am 22 Dec 21

Um, schools and families were trying to keep the lights on during 2 years of a PANDEMIC. There’s your reason why NAPLAN results for the last two years should be completely disregarded!

    Marsha Edwards Marsha Edwards 9:48 am 22 Dec 21

    Jessica Katherine too logical. So sick of the weight given to this test that is there, first and foremost, to prop up a business model

    Christie Hartfiel Christie Hartfiel 5:14 pm 22 Dec 21

    Weren’t all states affected by lockdowns? Why would ACT be worse on NAPLAN than other states?

Norelle Kasberger Norelle Kasberger 8:38 am 22 Dec 21

Hearing this for the past few DECADES yes nothing changes 🙄

    Simon Smith Simon Smith 6:32 pm 22 Dec 21

    Norelle Kasberger yeah it does. It gets worse

Ariane Brewer Ariane Brewer 9:44 pm 21 Dec 21

Imagine giving kids homework......🤭 did I day that? I've been saying this for years. Education is so lacking these days

    Debbie Bousgas Debbie Bousgas 7:54 am 22 Dec 21

    Ariane Brewer there is no research they actually supports homework as value-added. As a teacher, I would dearly like to see parents conversing with their children, adding to their general knowledge and encouraging them to read- and not just stories, great non-fiction about current events.

    Robyn Leanne Robyn Leanne 11:19 am 22 Dec 21

    Ariane Brewer Imagine parents reading and conversing with their children each night. Encouraging experiencing a wide range of texts. Encouraging them to learn about money and budgeting a household. Giving children responsibility and teaching them basic manners and respect. Education at home is so lacking these days.

    Ariane Brewer Ariane Brewer 12:25 pm 22 Dec 21

    Debbie Bousgas many parents do this but lots of children including my own forget everything they did that day once their feet are out of school grounds. Homework is a great tool to help cement knowledge. I'm not saying it needs to hours worth daily just enough to aid the information that has been given that day.

    Ariane Brewer Ariane Brewer 12:26 pm 22 Dec 21

    Robyn Leanne I whole hearted agree. Many parents myself included still do this but just need that little bit extra to help their children retain what they have learnt at school that day

    Robyn Leanne Robyn Leanne 12:50 pm 22 Dec 21

    Ariane Brewer honestly it’s better to do real world application of literacy and numeracy than set homework. This has a greater impact on their learning. Hence why there is no homework in Finland. Where education outcomes are higher.

    Ariane Brewer Ariane Brewer 1:06 pm 22 Dec 21

    Robyn Leanne sure let's just call it we will agree to disagree 😉

Sophie Nesci Sophie Nesci 5:57 pm 21 Dec 21

In high performing countries that do not hot-house kids, these ridiculous exams do not exist. Look to Finland for better models. Support teachers, pay them a liveable wage and see the magic happen.

    Crtomir Kores Crtomir Kores 9:58 pm 21 Dec 21

    Sophie Nesci From what I understand about the Finnish educational system, (correct me if I am wrong) parents and government ministers don't question the teaching methods. If parents question a teacher they are politely told that it does not involve them as they neither have the professional expertise or education. All schools are government schools. No private schools. All schools are equally funded and teaching methods are left to the professionals - teachers.

    Norelle Kasberger Norelle Kasberger 8:41 am 22 Dec 21

    Sophie Nesci I’m sure I’ve read that teachers in Finland and other Scandinavian countries must have a Master of Education and enjoy a high level of respect. Classrooms definitely look different as in behaviour and level of respect as a reflection of Community respect. Something I have seen eroded over my short four decades of teaching.

    Robyn Leanne Robyn Leanne 11:17 am 22 Dec 21

    Norelle Kasberger we have to have a minimum Masters of Education in Australia for several years now. Only older teachers who went through Grad Dip Ed’s are allowed not to (Grandfather clause) all new teachers must have Masters. You are right about community respect. It’s not a profession that people would choose any more.

brianf brianf 2:38 pm 21 Dec 21

Many commentators are missing the point of NAPLAN. It’s a national moderation test for schools, to see how well schools in the ACT are teaching the national curriculum versus schools in any other state. And our results are ordinary. But improvement is very hard when our efforts are fractured across disputes and competition between schools and school systems, rather than concentrating on following the best precedents. And it’s also true this test only measures a — objective, easily tested — fraction of what students are learning.

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