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- NAPLAN data shows 28.9 per cent of Victorian students are falling behind, particularly in grammar and punctuation.
- Still, over 65 per cent of students were marked in the strong or exceeding categories in most assessments.
- The 2023 results show around one in 10 students across Australia need more support to progress.
- Girls are outperforming boys in writing nationwide, with better average scores in every year group.
- Boys continue to outperform girls in numeracy, however.
Almost one third of Australian children and just over a quarter of Victoria’s students are failing to meet new proficiency standards for literacy and numeracy.
NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) test results released on Wednesday showed that 28.9 per cent of the state’s students were falling behind tough new benchmarks introduced this year, particularly in grammar and punctuation, where at least 30 per cent in each assessed year level failed to meet expected standards.
The results were similar across Australia, where an average of 33 per cent were below expectations, including almost one in 10 students not achieving the expected learning outcomes for literacy and numeracy at their year level.
NAPLAN underwent a radical overhaul this year, introducing new, higher benchmarks in line with international testing and replacing the previous minimum standards, with four proficiency categories: exceeding, strong, developing and needs additional support.
The 2023 NAPLAN test set a new baseline for results, removing the ability to compare students’ progress from previous years. Experts said the results were a “wake-up call” for Australia, as they exposed a “long tail of underperforming students” previously masked by low minimum standards.
Victoria led the country on average testing scores, recording first or second place in 16 of the 20 assessment areas – one more than NSW.
What the new bands mean
Exceeding: The student’s result exceeds expectations at the time of testing.
Strong: The student’s result meets challenging but reasonable expectations at the time of testing.
Developing: The student’s result indicates that they are working towards expectations at the time of testing.
Needs additional support: The student’s result indicates that they are not achieving the learning outcomes expected at the time of testing. They are likely to need additional support to progress satisfactorily.
The state performed well in reading at years 3 and 5, and retained first place in the nation for year 3 reading and numeracy, and years 5, 7 and 9 writing. But grammar and punctuation were problematic across all levels, with more than 30 per cent falling below expected standards.
The results exposed a broadening gap for Aboriginal students in Victoria, with an average of 21.5 per cent of Indigenous students in the needs additional support category, compared to 6.8 per cent of non-Indigenous students.
Nationally, girls outperformed boys in writing, with better average scores in every year group. But boys continued to outperform girls in numeracy, including in year 5, where 6 per cent fewer girls achieved the exceeding category.
An average of 9.8 per cent nationwide, across all year levels and assessments, needed additional support, 23 per cent were developing, 50.4 per cent were strong and 15.1 per cent were exceeding.
In Victoria, an average of 7.1 per cent of students were in the lowest category, 21.8 per cent were in the developing category or “working towards expectations”, 52.6 per cent were strong and 16.4 per cent exceeding expectations.
Grattan Institute education program director Jordana Hunter said the new benchmarks painted a clearer picture of standards and gave Australia the wake-up call it needed, particularly for First Nations students, where almost two-thirds fell below proficiency.
Hunter said the results reinforced the need for the Victorian government to follow NSW and introduce year 1 phonics screening checks – with one in four year 3 students marked as below proficiency in reading.
“Governments need to do much more to encourage teachers to adopt explicit approaches to teaching key aspects of literacy and numeracy in primary school in particular because we know it gets harder and harder to catch students up over time,” she said.
Victoria’s best results were in year 5 reading, where 24.4 per cent of students were exceeding expectations, and year 7 spelling, where it was 21.8 per cent. There were also considerable numbers exceeding in year 5 spelling, 21.7 per cent and year 3 reading, 21.2 per cent.
Grammar and punctuation were problematic at all Victorian year levels, with around one third of each group falling into the bottom two categories. In year 3, 10.4 per cent of students were in the lowest category for grammar, while 29.7 per cent were marked developing and only 9.7 per cent exceeding.
More than a third, 39.5 per cent, of grade 9 students also performed below proficiency in writing.
More than 65 per cent of Victorian students were marked in the strong or exceeding categories in most assessments, except grade 3 grammar, 57.5 per cent; grade 9 writing, 63.8 per cent; and grade 9 grammar, 58.4 per cent.
State Education Minister Natalie Hutchins said the “phenomenal results” were “a tribute to the extraordinary work and efforts of Victorian kids, teachers, principals, parents and carers”.
Students sat this year’s NAPLAN tests in March instead of May, allowing teachers to access data earlier as part of the testing overhaul. A record 4.4 million online tests were submitted by more than 1.3 million students at 9390 campuses and schools across Australia.
David de Carvalho, chief executive of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, said the results continued to highlight disparities of students from non-urban areas, of Indigenous heritage and those with low socio-economic backgrounds.
Only 30 per cent of students in very remote schools were rated as strong or exceeding in any assessment or year level, while at least 60 per cent of students in major city schools were strong or exceeding.
The Centre for Independent Studies’ director of education, Glenn Fahey, said previously low national minimum standards had masked “a long tail of underperforming students”.
“The new benchmarks for NAPLAN are better aligned with international tests and show us that we have struggled to serve struggling learners,” he said.
“The challenge now for education systems is to systematically define and provide the additional support that the new NAPLAN reporting tells us that many students need.”
Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said the next step was assisting students who needed more support.
“The evidence shows if you have fall behind at school it’s really hard to catch up,” he said.
Changes to the NAPLAN testing were recommended by an independent review in 2020.
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