ACARA Update

29 May 2017


NAPLAN 2017 finishes without the world ending

By Robert Randall, ACARA CEO

NAPLAN is now over for 2017. The world didn’t stop spinning, there were no major incidents, and the vast majority of students, parents and teachers rightly treated NAPLAN for what it is – a series of short tests designed to gain valuable information on how Australia’s students are doing in the fundamentally important areas of literacy and numeracy.

Results will be out later in the year, in around 10–12 weeks, when we get information back to parents and schools about how students have performed on this year's tests. When NAPLAN moves online, this timeframe will be significantly reduced. 

It has now been a decade since NAPLAN was introduced. The annual assessment is mainly seen as a routine, but important, part of the school calendar. And that’s the way it should be.

Although less prevalent now than in the early years of NAPLAN, we do continue to hear the same NAPLAN myths repeated. I feel it is important to again dispel some of those common misconceptions…

"NAPLAN doesn’t add any value – my child already takes tests at school"

NAPLAN is a valuable tool for educators and parents to see how well Australia’s children are going in relation to literacy and numeracy standards. NAPLAN is a point-in-time snapshot assessment of students’ achievements in these areas. As a nation-wide assessment, NAPLAN doesn’t replace the assessment activities that are regularly held in classrooms; rather, it complements these assessments, adding a valuable national dimension.

Many school principals have actively voiced their support of NAPLAN. As in previous years, during this year’s NAPLAN testing, principals were commenting that the testing provides teachers and schools with data and valuable information that are used as intended – to target teaching both for groups of students and individuals. 

"There’s no point in my child taking NAPLAN"

As we know, literacy and numeracy are fundamental skills every child needs in life to succeed. NAPLAN doesn’t test everything that happens in a classroom – it isn’t intended to – but it does look at the critically important areas of literacy and numeracy. NAPLAN is a check on these areas – to see how each student is going, to see who is excelling, and to see who might need more help. Who wouldn’t want to know if a child is falling behind in a certain area? In reading, for example. That way help can be offered to them. No students should be left behind or overlooked in gaining essential literacy and numeracy skills. 

"NAPLAN causes anxiety and stress"

NAPLAN is not the first, nor the last test a child will take. It’s true, some students may feel anxious about NAPLAN, but it’s up to the adults in children’s lives to help keep NAPLAN in context. It’s a test that is taken four times in a child’s school life. Over three days, there are four tests, which take around one hour each. NAPLAN tests what students should learn through everyday teaching. Testing students’ literacy and numeracy skills is not new, states and territories had testing programs in place for many years before NAPLAN was introduced, it’s just that NAPLAN provides a national assessment and a national perspective.

While I regret any case of stress experienced by a young person as a result of NAPLAN, I can only wonder how it compares to the ongoing stress felt by young people and adults who do not possess the literacy and numeracy skills necessary to continue learning at and beyond school.

"NAPLAN data published on My School create league tables"

The My School website is not about league tables. There are no league tables on the website and ACARA does all it can to avoid the publication of league tables. In fact, My School and the data provided on it have enable us to identify schools that are demonstrating gain and celebrating cases of above average gain. 

Parents can use My School as one source of information about their child’s schooling, alongside other sources. Parents can make comparisons between their child’s school and others catering for students with similar backgrounds.

Overall, NAPLAN is about driving improvement in our schools. The valuable data gained are used for forward-planning, allocating support and resources, and tracking progress and achievements of individual students, as well as entire groups of students, over the course of their educational journey.

The data from NAPLAN is used to make sure we are doing our very best to give every Australian child the skills to thrive, by equipping them with essential literacy and numeracy skills.

The biggest failure would be if we were not monitoring how our children are going in these areas. An illiterate or innumerate child will not be a successful adult.

ACARA specialists to visit disadvantaged schools

As a part of the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, ACARA has been funded to support the implementation of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies in some of Australia’s most disadvantaged schools.

ACARA will soon commence training eight Digital Technologies specialists, who will travel to low socio-educational level schools in each state and territory as a part of the Digital Technologies in Focus project, providing support and expertise to primary and secondary school teachers.

One hundred and sixty schools with a low ICSEA (index of community socio-educational advantage) rating have been invited to participate in the project. From July 2017, leaders and teachers from these schools will participate in workshops to support the implementation of Digital Technologies subject within their schools.

In 2018, the Digital Technologies specialists will conduct regional professional learning workshops with teachers and school leaders. These workshops will be customised to the specific needs of participating schools, with webinars and online mentoring complementing face-to-face events.

ACARA CEO, Robert Randall, said it was particularly important that the Digital Technologies specialists work collaboratively with schools to address their specific, individual needs and focus on ‘tackling the digital divide’.

“We need to ensure that students most at risk of falling behind in the digital age are given opportunities to participate and engage,” Mr Randall said.

“Our 2014 report into the National Assessment Program – Information and Communication Technology Literacy assessments showed a significant decline in the mean performance of both Year 6 and Year 10 students between the 2011 and 2014 assessments. This decline is highly concerning as it illustrates a pressing need for students to learn about, and work with, traditional, contemporary and emerging technologies that shape the world we live in.”

Mr Randall believes the initiative would provide a valuable professional development opportunity for teachers to strengthen their skills in Digital Technologies, with professional learning and leadership workshops, support materials and ongoing online support provided by ACARA.

“Through this project, school leaders and teachers will develop their Digital Technologies knowledge, understanding and skills, and in turn, students’ computational thinking and ICT capability should enhance,” Mr Randall said.

“Our Digital Technologies specialists are skilled teachers with intimate understanding of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies. By sharing their valuable knowledge, we can better support students’ digital learning outcomes in some of the most disadvantaged schools in our country.”

For more information about the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies, visit the Australian Curriculum website.

Australian Curriculum: reaching remote communities

Earlier this year, ACARA staff conducted workshops about the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (HPE) to Anangu Education Workers in Central Australia.

Anangu are the traditional custodians of Uluru Kata Tjuta (also known as Ayers Rock and The Olgas). Nyangatjatjara College, an Anangu college, provides secondary education across three remote communities and primary education in one. All students are Anangu and almost all speak Pitjantjatjara as a first language.

ACARA was invited and funded to provide two days of professional learning to a group of Anangu Education Workers (known locally as AEWs) at Nyangatjatjara College.

The objective was to explain the structure, terminology and intent of the HPE learning area to AEWs in culturally relevant and accessible ways, with the intention to empower and upskill the workers so they could contribute to HPE curriculum programming, planning, teaching and assessment with other staff.

The approach valued local processes and content, and recognised that Anangu from the local community hold the key to relevance, continuity and sustainability of teaching and learning in remote schools. A Pitjantjatjara-speaker, who was also a Senior Research Fellow from the University of South Australia, assisted in translating the Australian Curriculum: HPE concepts into Pitjantjatjara. Practical outcomes as a result of the professional learning include the development of mutually agreed and shared HPE planning documents, as well as some AEWs delivering HPE classroom lessons.

Release of the national report on schooling

The National Report on Schooling in Australia 2014 has been released. ACARA produces this report on behalf of the COAG Education Council.

A new interactive resource called the National Report on Schooling data portal has been established and has also been released. While the national report is an annual update, with this edition containing 2014 data, the new data portal has more recent data on schools and schooling, including data on key performance measures.

Charts and tables on the data portal enable users to filter data by state, school sector, school level, type, Indigeneity and other measures where appropriate.

This inaugural data portal contains data up to 2015. Later this year, the portal will be updated with available 2016 data. The information accessed through the portal will be updated twice a year to provide users with the latest information possible.

The national report on schooling in Australia will continue to be published as an annual record, complemented by the interactive data on the data portal. The national report contains a wealth of important education data, but takes some time to publish because of the need to collect, validate and gain approval of many data sets. 

Read a new Primary Matters

The Primary Matters newsletter, prepared by the ACARA Curriculum team, provides information about ACARA’s projects for primary schools and all who are interested in the Australian Curriculum for primary education.

Visit the ACARA website to read the May issue of Primary Matters.