Grattan Institute ‘Measuring Student Progress’ Report on NAPLAN states:
- We need to focus more on student progress
- Progress tells us more about the contribution schools make to student growth
- ACT and SA primary schools make the best progress
- As secondary, no one state excels
- TAS and NT are not severe underperformers.
The report finds that whether a student attends a government, Catholic or independent school has little impact on how fast they progress in NAPLAN. Low rates of progress in regional and rural schools are mainly explained by their high levels of disadvantaged students. And whether a student goes to a big or small school has little relationship to how well they will learn.
“The Grattan report card provides new insight on what’s happening in schools and contains important lessons for education policy makers,” Dr Goss says.
“Governments should investigate why students make more progress in some states than others, with the goal of identifying the teacher practices and school policies that produce the best results for our children.”
This report was written by Dr Peter Goss, Grattan Institute School Education Program Director, Julie Sonnemann, School Education.
The following are excerpts specifically relevant to SA, NT & WA from the report. A link to the full report is at the end of this article.
1. We need to focus more on student progress
Australia puts too much emphasis on student achievement at a point in time, and not enough on students’ progress over the course of their schooling. This report shows how students are progressing in different states, sectors and locations. The results give policy makers a clearer picture of what’s happening in our schools, and what should be done to improve student outcomes.
2. Progress tells us more about the contribution schools make to student growth
The best schools in Australia are not those with the highest NAPLAN scores. The best schools are those that enable their students to make the greatest progress in learning. Wherever a student starts from on
the first day of the year, he or she deserves to have made at least a year’s worth of progress by the end of it.
Student progress measures tell us how much the same cohort of students has improved from one point to the next, for example their learning growth from Year 3 through to Year 9. This should not be confused with trends in student achievement, which simply show how the results of a given year level (for example, Year 3) change over time.
Progress measures tells us more about the value the school adds, because they indicate what learning takes place in the classroom. Achievement measures are more likely to reflect the influence of a student’s family background.
While some states and territories have developed specific progress measures to avoid the traps of NAPLAN gain scores, federal public reporting still relies heavily on the gain scores in making state comparisons. This report compares student progress across Australia in a way that avoids the pitfalls of NAPLAN gain scores. It uses a new measure for interpreting NAPLAN data, ‘Equivalent Year Levels’, first developed in our 2016 report Widening Gaps.
3. ACT and South Australian primary schools make the least progress
Students at ACT and South Australian primary schools consistently make less progress in numeracy and reading compared to similar schools in other states. The ACT and South Australia are consistently at the lower end of the national spread. They have very few high-performing schools, even among educationally advantaged schools. South Australian primary students made around one month less progress than the national average in numeracy and reading. This was consistent across the five cohorts.
4. At secondary, no one state excels
Our analysis at secondary level includes only NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory). In these states and territories, Year 7 has been part of secondary school during the period of our study. The other three states – Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia – are excluded from the analysis at secondary level because they do not have sufficiently representative data for students who attended the same school for two consecutive NAPLAN tests in Year7 and 9. In these states, year 7 was generally part of primary school, rather than secondary school, during the period of our study.
5. Tasmania and the Northern Territory are not severe under-performers
Tasmania and the Northern Territory are often thought of as Australia’s education under-performers. But when school advantage is taken into account, this is not the case. This result suggests their schools are not, on average, doing a bad job. Rather, they are doing a tough job reasonably well.
The Northern Territory and Tasmania have much lower average socio-economic status than the other states and territories. The Northern Territory also has larger Indigenous populations and more population in remote and regional areas. The Northern Territory and Tasmania have much higher proportions of students at lower-ICSEA schools. Before adjusting for ICSEA, schools in Tasmania and Northern Territory make less student progress than the national average in all subjects and year levels (except for Tasmania in Year 7-9 writing). But after adjusting for ICSEA, student progress is generally similar to the national average. In fact, each makes significantly above-average student progress in one area (Tasmania in secondary-level writing, the Northern Territory in primary-level reading). While both have areas to work on, they are not persistent under-performers.
It should be noted that our analysis excludes a significant number of very disadvantaged schools in the Northern Territory. These schools, typically remote and with high indigenous populations, face complex challenges. In many of these schools, literacy and numeracy capabilities are so low that NAPLAN testing is a poor way to assess student learning.