Response to NAPLAN media stories by ACARA CEO David de Carvalho
29 November 2022
Media reporting using NAPLAN data to show the “best performing” public and private schools in Australia highlights how misleading media reports can be when it comes to education.
The problem with “league tables” presented in these news stories is that they take no account of the educational advantages that the students who are enrolled in these so-called “top-performing schools” bring with them.
Many of these students have parents who are affluent and well-educated themselves, which is an enormous advantage.
For example, the student populations at both the “top performing” primary and secondary schools in NSW are in the top 1% in terms of socio-educational advantage which takes into account parental education and employment.
To heap credit on the schools they attend, just because they are getting high scores, is to mistake the outcome for the educational input provided by the school. Many of these students would do just as well at other schools.
A more accurate and meaningful approach to assessing the educational input that a school provides is found in the changes to the My School website that ACARA introduced in 2020. This allows for a fairer assessment by comparing the increase in average NAPLAN scores at a school between two tests (e.g., Year 3 and Year 5) with the increase achieved by all other students across the country who had the same starting score and the same level of socio-educational advantage.
It provides authoritative and accurate information that parents can use to assess which schools are really making a difference. I recommend it your readers.
David de Carvalho, CEO, ACARA (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority)
NAPLAN tests and results
15 August 2018
NAPLAN tests are developed by ACARA in consultation and collaboration with teachers and education authorities in all states and territories, the Australian Government, and the non-government school sector.
NAPLAN results are reviewed prior to release by experts in psychometrics, educational measurement and large-scale testing programs (the Measurement Advisory Group).
Who are ACARA’s Measurement Advisory Group?
The Measurement Advisory Group provides ACARA with high-level expert and independent educational measurement and assessment advice and input on:
- the analyses used to equate and scale NAPLAN and NAP Sample tests each year
- the validity of NAPLAN results each year prior to release of the results.
The group also review and endorse research related to the National Assessment Program.
ACARA’s Measurement Advisory Group members are:
- Ray Adams, Honorary Senior Fellow – MAG Chair, the University of Melbourne
- Barry McGaw, Emeritus Professor, the University of Melbourne
- David Andrich, Professor of Education, the University of Western Australia
- Patrick Griffin, Emeritus Professor, the University of Melbourne
- Shelley Gillis, Associate Professor, the University of Melbourne
- G. Gage Kingsbury, independent consultant and retired senior research fellow, NWEA, Psychometric Consulting
- Derek Briggs, Professor and Program Chair, the University of Colorado Boulder.
NAPLAN technical reports
ACARA releases a NAPLAN technical report on each year's NAPLAN assessment, following the release of that year’s NAPLAN national report. The technical report includes the statistical and psychometric analyses that led to the results. The report describes and documents the methodology used to produce the NAPLAN assessment scales and the methodology used to report on the performance of the current year student cohort. It includes descriptions of test calibration, equating and scale construction processes, and outlines the steps in the analysis. The NAPLAN 2018 technical report will be published on the NAP website following the NAPLAN national report release.
Article in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding financial literacy in the Australian Curriculum
20 December 2017
An article in the Sydney Morning Herald today regarding financial literacy quotes a commentator as saying: "You go to school and learn algebra, but you can't learn how to manage money," she said. "It's a failing on the government that it's not a core part of a national curriculum."
For clarification, the suggestion that “…[financial literacy is] not a core part of a national curriculum” is incorrect. The Australian Curriculum supports the development of consumer and financial literacy in young Australians.
Consumer and financial literacy features explicitly in the Mathematics and Humanities and Social Sciences curricula. The Australian Curriculum website also includes a comprehensive resource to show how consumer and financial literacy can be taught across all years of schooling and provides links to other rich resources.
See more here: https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/resources/curriculum-connections/portfolios/consumer-and-financial-literacy/
Response to article in The Conversation about standardised tests being ‘culturally biased against rural students’
23 November 2017
Australia is a vast country with a small but diverse population. From the bush to the beach, young Australians live and learn in an incredibly wide range of contexts, and each one of them deserves the best educational opportunities.
The Australian Curriculum sets the goals for what all students should learn as they progress through their school life – wherever they live in Australia and whichever school they attend. The Australian Curriculum is both structured and agile, teachers can adapt its content to the needs of their communities and students.
The Australian Curriculum’s three-dimensional approach to learning integrates eight learning areas, seven general capabilities and three cross-curriculum priorities. General capabilities equip students to engage effectively with global, national and local issues. Cross-curriculum priorities give a focus across subjects on priorities critical to Australia’s future. Learning areas focus on the disciplines such as English, Science, The Arts.
The flexibility of the curriculum ensures relevance, no matter where students live and learn. For example, teachers in a regional school community may focus a unit of work on local geography, agriculture, sustainability, and critical and creative thinking. An inner-city school may emphasise the impact of urbanisation on the environment, with a focus on sustainability, and personal and social capability, while accessing the same curriculum.
The development of NAPLAN test items (the 'questions') is an extensive process that takes over a year. Test developers create questions that meet tight specifications, using content that is accessible by all students. Then test managers from each state and territory review the proposed test items. Then trialling is undertaken, where a sample of students in both city and rural areas of each state and territory try all potential test questions.
The data from these trials are analysed and then questions that meet the test specifications are selected to construct each test. After that, ACARA's measurement experts review the tests and trial data, and provide advice before the tests are finalised.
ACARA believes that this process ensures the test items developed are suitable for students of various locations throughout the whole of Australia and are as inclusive as possible.
Dr Stanley Rabinowitz, General Manager, Assessment and Reporting, ACARA
Hillary Dixon, Acting Director, Curriculum, ACARA
Response to NAPLAN claims in Daily Mail article
28 April 2017
Today’s article in the Daily Mail with Dr Justin Coulson includes a number of unsubstantiated claims about the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). The purpose of NAPLAN is to determine how students are performing in literacy and numeracy, and to identify areas of good performance as well as cases where additional attention is required. Literacy and numeracy are fundamental areas of learning and are important basic skills that children require throughout their schooling years and well into their adult lives.
NAPLAN lets us see how students are faring in literacy and numeracy against national standards and compared to others in their year level and in Australia. Some states and territories provide reports, which show how students compare with others in their state/territory. This, along with other school assessment reports, supports parents in discussing with teachers a student’s strengths and areas of improvement.
NAPLAN tests are reliable. ACARA publishes information about the reliability of NAPLAN tests as well as information about tests and questions performance. This information and analyses are described in full detail in the annual NAPLAN technical reports, available to the public on the NAP website.
The validity of NAPLAN tests is also ensured through a rigorous process of test construction, where every item (or test question) is trialled and thoroughly reviewed by ACARA’s experts and a panel of highly experienced assessment and curriculum experts from all Australian states and territories and school systems.
NAPLAN should not be ‘stressful’ for students and, in most cases, I believe that NAPLAN is just another activity in a school day for students. It is important that we keep NAPLAN in perspective. It is not a pass or fail test for students. Rather, NAPLAN is a point in time snapshot assessment of a student’s achievements in the key areas of literacy and numeracy. What is tested in NAPLAN is what is taught in the classroom.
It is up to the adults in students' lives – parents, teachers, carers – to ensure that children keep NAPLAN in perspective and to emphasise that NAPLAN tests what children learn in the classroom every day. In that way, it is similar to any other test or challenge students may face at school – not only academic tests, but sporting events, musical performances and other extra-curricular activities.
Parents and teachers can help children prepare for NAPLAN by keeping the tests in context and helping them understand and be comfortable with the test format. Some past NAPLAN questions are available on this website.
Literacy and numeracy tests are not a new concept. These assessments have been undertaken in schools across the country for decades. NAPLAN complements these tests and adds a valuable national dimension. Teachers, schools and education departments have long recognised value in NAPLAN data and use it in a variety of ways to support student outcomes, such as providing additional resources or adopting strategies to enhance students’ skills in literacy and numeracy.
Chief Executive Officer
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority
Article in The Courier Mail fails to assess the bigger picture
31 January 2017
Today’s news item in The Courier Mail is based on one example test item that has been provided on ACARA’s NAPLAN Online public demonstration website and leaps from this to a commentary about education standards.
It is disappointing The Courier Mail has chosen this sensationalist angle, when the more valuable discussion is on working to ensure that all students have basic reading comprehension skills much earlier than in Year 9.
To clarify, the text message item is just one in a set of five literacy assessment passages that have been provided on the NAPLAN Online demonstration website. The purpose of the demonstration site is to enable students, parents and teachers to become familiar with the technology-enhanced questions that NAPLAN Online allows, including interactive navigation and features such as drag and drop. The public demonstration site does not, and is not intended to, reflect the full range of items of an actual NAPLAN reading test.
Why would ACARA include a test item using a text message passage?
NAPLAN assessments include a range of questions from easy to challenging in order to assess what all students, from higher to the lower achieving, know and can do.The sample SMS text passage and associated questions are a simple comprehension exercise in the context of an SMS conversation. The questions posed are related to a conversation between students, they are not questions about emojis, or that it is an SMS conversation. ACARA expects that the great majority of Year 9 students would get the questions right, but also anticipates that about 10 per cent of students, those who are at or below the national minimum standard, would not.
In the Australian Curriculum: English, students are expected to study various types of media texts, including newspaper, film and digital as well as literary texts including poetry and novels. The range of texts may contain selections from the classical canon as well as recognised contemporary Australian and international authors. Central to meeting these expectations is a high level of literacy.
While we have high expectations for our students, as evident in the Australian Curriculum, the data from tests such as NAPLAN indicate that we need to do more if we want our students to achieve what is expected.
It is disappointing that the focus of the The Courier Mail’s article has been on just one passage in a small set of sample items – simply to generate a headline. This is a distraction from what we should all be discussing: how we can ensure that all students have basic reading comprehension skills much earlier than in Year 9.
ACARA’s rebuttal to misinformed article on NAPLAN
18 August 2016
To the editor
The article ‘NAPLAN data is not comparable across school years’ by Watson, Handle and Maher published in The Conversation on 12 August raises questions regarding the reliability and validity of longitudinal reporting and tracking of NAPLAN results. The article asserts that the year-to-year comparisons on NAPLAN results and outcomes lack sufficient reliability owing to the measurement uncertainty of the NAPLAN test equating and scaling process.
Key sections of the article contain factually incorrect descriptions and interpretations of the statistical methods and analyses used to establish the comparability of NAPLAN results across tests cycles and year levels. These errors cast strong doubts on subsequent conclusions made in the article.
In the section titled ‘Flaws in the tests’, the article incorrectly states that only a small subset of NAPLAN test items is used to provide "year to year standardisations of a test as whole".
The fact of the matter is that a set of full-length NAPLAN tests are kept secure and are used to conduct 'year-to-year' or longitudinal equating of NAPLAN test and scales. These secure equating NAPLAN tests are administered to a representative sample of Australian students approximately two weeks before the same students sit the main NAPLAN tests. A separate sample of 800 students for each NAPLAN test domain and school year level participate in these equating activities every year. Consequently, the year-to-year NAPLAN equating uses student responses gathered from the two full-length NAPLAN tests with the total number of tests items used in such equating ranging from 70 to 100. The linking is further enhanced by sharing a number of items between tests across different year levels. These link items are used to investigate and support the vertical linking of NAPLAN tests across the different year levels. The proportion of link items in a test ranges from approximately 30% for year levels 3 and 9 tests and up to 60% for year levels 5 and 7 tests.
Importantly, the final longitudinal equating and vertical scaling of NAPLAN tests uses information from both tests, from the equating study and the information on item performance, including performance of link items, sourced from a separate large national sample of students (approximately 10,000 students for primary and 20,000 students from secondary schools). The total number of tests items that provides information for longitudinal equating and vertical linking far exceed the figures asserted in the article.
The quality of the equating is further ensured by review and signoff of an independent group of psychometricians known as ACARA’s Measurement Advisory Group (MAG).
Consequently, the article’s key interpretation of the impact of equating uncertainty on reliability of NAPLAN results is based solely on an incorrect understanding and representation of the NAPLAN equating process.
It should be otherwise. ACARA makes extensive data on its processes publicly available. The regression model used to investigate and combine information from longitudinal equating and vertical linking as well as a full description of equating and vertical linking methods and analyses are described in full detail in the annual NAPLAN technical reports available to the public on the ACARA website. NAPLAN technical reports also provide detailed descriptions of how a measure of the uncertainty of the NAPLAN equating, a standard error of equating, is calculated. These standard errors of equating are used in all year-to-year, longitudinal comparisons of NAPLAN results published in NAPLAN national reports. The standard errors of equating are derived from the performance of NAPLAN test items using the method similar to that used in international large-scale assessment programs such as PISA.
The importance of all sources of uncertainty on reporting, comparison, valid interpretation and secondary use of NAPLAN results cannot be overstated. It is for this reason that all relevant standard errors for all NAPLAN scores and statistics are regularly published and distributed/provided directly to researchers, the educational community and the public. NAPLAN technical reports provide standard errors of measurement and reliability coefficients for all NAPLAN test in addition to the standard errors of equating. The measurement error of individual NAPLAN scores is published for all past NAPLAN tests in the NAPLAN score equivalence tables and the standard errors that should be used to compare school means, both of which are published on the My School website.
Finally, at the end of the section "Flaws in the tests", the article incorrectly asserts that the impact of the standard error of measurements on comparisons of NAPLAN results is amplified when the individual student results are summarised at the cohort level. In fact, the opposite is true — the increase in the sample and cohort size leads to the reduction of the standard error of the reported statistic (see Wu, 2010; p. 19). Consequently, the article’s key assertion regarding the apparent low reliability of the preliminary NAPLAN 2016 results is factually incorrect, as standard errors of measurement at the reported national and state and territory level results are significantly lower than that observed at the level of individual NAPLAN scores.
In conclusion, the article by Watson, Handel, and Maher attempts to raise important issues regarding the reliability of year-to-year NAPLAN comparisons. However, the key assertions offered in the authors' article are based on methodological assumptions and interpretations that are demonstrably false and misleading.
NAPLAN tests can be used to reliably and validly compare NAPLAN results across test cycles and year levels. It is the responsibility of researchers and data users to account for, and include in, their analyses, all sources of measurement uncertainty relevant to the sample size and unit level of their analyses and reporting.
Senior Manager, Measurement and Reporting
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority
Honorary Senior Fellow, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
University of Melbourne
ACARA’s response to call for ‘food curriculum’
4 May 2015
An article in the Adelaide Advertiser (28 April) called for a ‘food curriculum’.
In the Australian Curriculum students learn about food and nutrition, where their food comes from, how it is produced and how they can prepare it. Students are taught about food and nutrition in health and physical education from Foundation to Year 10 and in the technologies learning area through design and technologies from Foundation to Year 8. Beyond Year 8, students may elect to study further in subjects specialising in food.
In the health and physical education curriculum, students develop knowledge and understanding of nutrition principles to enable them to make healthy food choices and consider the range of influences on these choices. In design and technologies, students develop understandings of contemporary technology related food issues such as ‘convenience’ foods, highly processed foods, food packaging and food transport.
See more on the Australian Curriculum website.
Religion in the Australian Curriculum
11 August 2014
The Australian Curriculum offers students in all schools – whether faith-based or secular – an opportunity to learn about religions, spirituality and ethical beliefs. In the curriculum, religion is represented as a study ‘about religion’ rather than study about a particular religious faith. In subjects such as history and civics and citizenship, the focus is on learning about religious identity and diversity, the role and significance of religion in our society, and identifying various religious traditions and key developments in religion.
There is coverage of religion both in Australia and in a global context, which provides an opportunity for educators to include a local community perspective with global connections.
The Australian Curriculum: a robust and world-class curriculum
1 August 2014
In reference to comments about the concept of national curriculum in today’s Courier Mail, ACARA believes the Australian Curriculum is a robust and world-class curriculum which will shape young Australians to be confident and engaged global citizens.
For over two decades Australia has been moving towards a national approach to schooling, including a national curriculum.
More than 20 years later and after a series of collaborative efforts among the states and territories, the first truly Australian Curriculum is available for use for Australian schools.
It is a world-class national curriculum, building on the best of our current curricula and shaped by comparison with the best from overseas. Curriculum is only one part of the story of school learning. The curriculum comes alive in the hands of teachers who make expert decisions about the learning experiences each student needs to succeed. In Australia, the curriculum is also facilitated by state and territory curriculum and school authorities.
An Australian Curriculum means that no matter where students live they now have access to the same content and their achievements will be judged against the same standards. It gives teachers stability to focus on the quality of their teaching, while being a living document that can evolve and change.
ACARA has been invited to present our work on the Australian Curriculum to colleagues around the world and we know that it is generating much interest. Australia is recognised as one of the leaders in education and a worthy partner in international collaborations. We also know that we have not accomplished this alone. We recognise the generous and often passionate contributions of countless stakeholders in shaping the curriculum, reaching settlements that do not compromise on quality and now supporting each other to implement new curriculum for our young people.
We have not yet seen the true benefits of a national curriculum – it is only in July 2014 that we have made education history by completing curriculum in all eight learning areas - but we are confident that young people and the nation will be better off as a result of the work done by tens of thousands during the last few years.
We can be rest assured that quality education is not a distant dream for our children.
ACARA COMMENT – ABC SUNSHINE COAST, 14 July 2014
15 July 2014
The Australian Curriculum sets high expectations for what all young Australians should be taught, regardless of where they live. Schools and teachers are responsible for the organisation and context in which learning takes place and they will make decisions that are appropriate and respond to their students’ needs and interests.
In addition to setting high content standards, the Australian Curriculum provides ideas about how the content might be taught. The Australian Curriculum does not specify how the content must be taught. The final decision lies with teachers.
The Australian Curriculum has been developed through rigorous national processes drawing on the best national talent and expertise to develop the curriculum. Each learning area and subject has taken between two and three years to develop.
In developing the Australian Curriculum, we have sought feedback from experts in other countries to ensure that the Australian Curriculum reflects not just best practice and high expectations in Australia, but also internationally.
For any year of schooling, the Australian Curriculum is written with the intention that it should not take up more than 80 per cent of the total teaching time available in schools. In Years 9 and 10, this reduces to 49 per cent of available teaching time.
Linking NAPLAN to the Australian Curriculum allows us to gauge the impact on curriculum on student results in national and international assessments. The first national data will be available when NAPLAN is aligned with the curriculum; this is scheduled to take place in 2016.
Are children taught about taxes and financial literacy in school?
9 July 2014
Financial literacy is covered in the Australian curriculum in both Foundation – Year 10 mathematics and the Years 5–10 economics and business curriculum.
In the F–10 Australian Curriculum, mathematics explicitly develops financial literacy in Years 1–10 through the sub-strand of money and financial mathematics. The focus is on developing an understanding of the value of money and equipping students with the skills to effectively manage money and carry out financial transactions. The Australian Curriculum: Mathematics can be found at the Australian Curriculum website.
The Australian Curriculum: Economics and Business, which formally commences in Year 5, builds on the knowledge, understanding and proficiencies in the F–10 Australian Curriculum: Mathematics. This curriculum also introduces Year 9 students to taxation, developing their understanding of their obligations as participants in the workplace. The Australian Curriculum: Economics and Business can be found at the Australian Curriculum website.
Are children taught about natural disasters in school?
3 July 2014
Australian children are taught about natural disasters in a number of aspects across the Australian Curriculum.
In the geography curriculum, Year 5 students are taught about natural disasters such as bushfires and floods. In Year 7, students learn about hydrological hazards, and in Year 8, geomorphological hazards (causes and human responses, including readiness).
In the design and technologies curriculum, there are elaborations on disasters. Year 7 and 8 students may critique competing factors that influence the design of services; for example, a natural disaster warning system for a community.
In Year 3 and 4, an elaboration explores factors that impact on design decisions; for example, considering the demographics of an area or the impact of natural disasters on design of constructed environments such as the structural design of buildings in Japan to withstand earthquakes.
Addressing body image in the Australian Curriculum
3 July 2014
Research shows that children who have strong social and emotional skills are less likely to be dissatisfied with their body image. That is why the Australian Curriculum has a strong focus on developing these skills within the health and physical education component of the curriculum.
The curriculum looks at building body awareness, confidence and a commitment to making healthy and active everyday choices. The messaging children and young people receive about their ideal body weight plays a huge role in body satisfaction. From Year 1 and 2 onwards, students look at how various health messages and advertising can influence their actions, behaviours and beliefs as part of the curriculum.
ACARA is committed to ensuring students receive a holistic education, encompassing a wide variety of subjects that help them develop into healthy, well-adjusted adults.
Latin: a choice amongst many
20 June 2014
The story 'Absurdus Maximus' (the Courier Mail, 20 June) is an absurdity itself.
It is disappointing that the Courier Mail and its journalist chose to ignore the facts provided to them by ACARA. This is sensationalist journalism at its best and an attempt to politicise the Australian curriculum.
Latin will not be 'dragged back into Australian schools' as reported. Instead, schools will simply have a wider choice of languages to teach in the classroom. Schools can currently offer Latin to their students, the inclusion of the language in the national curriculum introduces consistency to the current offering.
It is schools that decide the languages they want to teach. Some schools may choose to offer Latin as a language to study. Some may not. It is their choice as that choice exists now.
The more language options available for schools, the more likely students will continue to study a language through to their senior year. A government aim is for 40 per cent of Year 12 students to studying a second language in a decade - ACARA is supporting this initiative by offering world class curriculum improving the learning for all young Australians.
The languages selected for development and inclusion in the curriculum by ACARA followed extensive consultation in 2011. There was support for the development of classical languages, along with a range of others. Eleven languages have been, or are being, developed. A further five additional languages including Turkish, Hindi, AUSLAN and Classical Greek and Latin have been funded for development.
Chief Executive Officer
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority
Response to AFR story: coding in the curriculum
20 June 2014
The article in the Australian Financial Review "Should schools teach coding as part of the curriculum?" by Misa Han (18 June) contains inaccuracies.
The statement that no coding is taught in schools is incorrect. Many Australian schools currently do teach coding to their students.
In addition, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has Digital Technologies curriculum available for use by schools. A key part of this curriculum is students developing coding skills from the first year of schooling, just as they do in the UK.
Chief Executive Officer
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority