NAPLAN research suggests declining participation limits its usefulness
The paper, NAPLAN participation - who is missing the tests and why it matters, was released as students in years three, five, seven and nine around Australia sat their first NAPLAN tests of the year and highlighted a significant decline in participation in 2022.
A new paper released by the Australian Education Research Organisation suggests that declining NAPLAN participation is limiting the success of educational policy initiatives informed by this data.
The paper, NAPLAN participation – who is missing the tests and why it matters, was released as students in years three, five, seven and nine around Australia sat their first NAPLAN tests of the year and highlighted a significant decline in participation in 2022.
Participation rates among primary students have remained somewhat stable since 2014, whilst they have declined for senior students since NAPLAN began. The authors found that lower performing students are less likely to participate in the next round of testing, with this being the strongest predictor above other factors.
The report states that, “When data are not comprehensive or reflective of the underlying skills measured, then the capacity of NAPLAN to reliably inform national, state/territory and school level policy decisions is compromised.”
The decrease in participation is exacerbated for particular groups of students. Within year nine, the participation of First Nations students and very remote students fell significantly (from 76% to 66% and 63% to 48% respectively).
ACARA attempts to resolve issues from non-representative data by using plausible values (possible scores for absent or withdrawn students), however the authors note that when students from marginalised groups miss the test, this may become less effective over time.
The 2022 decline has been attributed to overall lower attendance nationally due to continuing disruptions from COVID-19 and significant climate events. The authors suggest that continuing decline is explained in the short term by greater numbers of absent students, while in the longer term, there appears to be increasing amounts of students being withdrawn from the exams.
A lack of participation in NAPLAN is classified as exempt, withdrawn or absent. The highest percentage of non-assessment due to withdrawal (based on Year 9 students — the most affected grade) was in Queensland.
According to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the National Assessment Program is the mechanism that is used by governments, educational bodies, schools, educators, parents and carers to measure the progress of students in literacy and numeracy against national standards. In order to have any chance at achieving this goal, the paper highlights that, there must be high levels of participation from engaged students.
This year marks a number of changes for NAPLAN, as the tests were moved from May to March and the grading system changed from a previous ten band structure to four.
The NAPLAN scheme has been repeatedly criticised over the past few years for being ineffectual, including by providing limited information on literacy and numeracy skills, and encouraging teaching to the test requirements rather than the appropriate methods for the class. Teachers experience significant administrative burdens in facilitating the tests, from technological issues to extensive yet vague training materials. Students tend to experience higher levels of stress and nervousness around the tests, rather than being able to use it as a valuable learning experience.