Student test fail a ‘national embarrassment’

Jason Clare Doorstop
NAPLAN results reveal one in three students are falling behind their peers at school. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Brendan Read

One in three of the country’s 1.3 million school students who sat the 2023 NAPLAN tests failed to meet literacy and numeracy expectations in the latest sign that Australia’s educational standards are continuing to slide.

Aggregated results from the 2023 National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy testing, released on Wednesday, showed about 65 per cent of students fell into the “exceeding” and “strong” categories when test scores were averaged across year levels and testing domains.

But 23 per cent and 10 per cent were in the “developing” and “needs additional support” levels respectively,

The remaining 2 per cent were exempt from sitting the test.

A combined 33 per cent of students were defined as ‘developing’ or requiring ‘additional support’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Emma Brasier

Students who were Indigenous, lived in remote locations, or whose parents did not complete high school were also more likely to lag behind their peers.

The NAPLAN test, a national exam that is undertaken by every student in years 3, 5 7 and 9, focuses on testing foundational skills in literacy and numeracy and provides a benchmark to compare school outcomes.

The results follow changes education ministers made before testing this year to toughen testing requirements.

Under the recently implemented NAPLAN approach, a student’s performance was gauged against a proficiency scale consisting of four levels based on their prior years of schooling: “exceeding”, “strong”, “developing”, and “needs additional support”.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said the results were reflective of these changes that “raised the bar” for NAPLAN testing.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare
Federal Education Minister Jason Clare says when students fall, it’s ‘very hard’ to catch up. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Tertius Pickard

“We have raised the minimum standard students are now expected to meet, so we can really identify the students who need additional support,” Mr Clare said.

“The next step is to provide them with that support.”

Mr Clare also cautioned that once a student fell behind their classmates, it was “very, very hard to catch up”.

“We can't accept that children who fall behind when they’re eight years old are going to stay behind for the rest of their lives,” he said.

“As a result a lot of children drop out of school.”

A new National School Reform Agreement, which will set long-term funding and student performance targets, is set to be introduced next year. Picture NCA NewsWire / Emma Brasier

Amid concerns that students’ performances are going backwards despite record funding now exceeding $72bn in 2022, the government is set to back prioritised funding for the most disadvantaged schools.

This will be finalised as part of the next National School Reform Agreement, which will set targets for long-term funding and student performance, which is expected to take effect from 2024.

The agreement is being examined by a panel of education experts who will make a set of recommendations, designed to lift student outcomes, to federal, state and territory education ministers in October.

Opposition education spokeswoman Sarah Henderson described the results as “terrible” and said they necessitated “urgent action” from Commonwealth and state Labor governments.

Opposition education spokeswoman Sarah Henderson said the sliding educational outcomes were a source of ‘national embarrassment’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

“The latest NAPLAN results confirm the opposition’s deep concerns that declining school standards have become a national embarrassment,” Senator Henderson said.

“Young Australians and their families deserve better than this and so does our country.”

The Australian Education Union (AEU), the sector’s representative body for teachers, said the updated NAPLAN outcomes demonstrated the need for additional funding for the nation’s public schools.

The AEU is campaigning federal, state and territory governments to secure adequate funding arrangements for all public schools by 2028 under the school resourcing standard.

“We can’t close the achievement gaps without closing the resources gaps,” the union’s federal president Correna Haythorpe said.

“Public schools educate most of the students with higher needs and yet only 1.3 per cent of our schools are funded to the … minimum level governments agree they need.”