2021 NAPLAN scores not impacted by COVID-19 pandemic in Australia

ACARA chief executive David de Carvalho
ACARA chief executive David de Carvalho

Australian students' literacy and numeracy skills were not significantly impacted by a year of disruptions and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, new NAPLAN summary data shows.

The national assessment program did not go ahead in 2020 due to the outbreak, but 1.2 million students in year 3, 5, 7 and 9 sat the test in May this year when schools were largely operating as usual.

Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority chief executive David de Carvalho said the fact that there was no significant change in students' mean scores should be a pleasant surprise.

"This should be a relief to many people but it should also be seen very much as a reassuring result that our students' literacy and numeracy standards have not significantly suffered despite the major disruptions of COVID-19 and the remote learning experience," Mr de Carvalho said.

"It's a real testament to the resilience and efforts of students, teachers, parents and carers, school principals and system authorities."

Long-term declines in writing for years 5, 7 and 9 have begun to reverse in the last two writing assessments.

The trend is positive when it comes to year 3 and 5 reading and years 5, 7 and 9 numeracy, which show gains equivalent to a term's worth of learning since the base year.

All years have seen a steady upward trend in spelling since the first tests in 2008.

Mr de Carvalho said more gains had been made across disciplines in years 3 and 5 since testing began and this showed that younger students tended to make better progress in response to changes in pedagogy.

"This is a type of pattern that we see across the world and it remains a continuing challenge for schools and systems to look at how we can build on the progress that is being made in the primary years and see that translate into into more statistically significant changes in the senior years," he said.


Mr de Carvalho would not comment on the strategies which had led to learning gains, however an ACARA analysis of 24 schools that achieve consistently high progress in NAPLAN found they used some similar methods.

These included explicit teaching, data analysis, sustained professional development with skilled teachers acting as mentors and collaborative approaches to planning and teaching.

The positive national and state and territory mean scores for 2021 could be hiding underachievement in certain disadvantaged groups.

A final NAPLAN report to be published in December will include demographic data in categories including gender, indigenous status, language background other than English, parental occupation, parental education and location.

"That's going to be particularly important to be able to drill down into potentially the impact of COVID on those subgroups," Mr de Carvalho said.

In 2019, the online NAPLAN tests were plagued with technical issues for 10 per cent of students. In 2021, about 70 per cent of schools took the test online and by 2022 all students will do the computer-based test.

Following a review of NAPLAN, the assessment authority has been asked to look into the feasibility of moving the tests to term 1 and returning the results more quickly.

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This story Pleasant surprise in this year's NAPLAN scores first appeared on The Canberra Times.