NAPLAN - An introduction

NAPLAN - comparing Australian schools

For returning expatriates with children, finding the "right" school is often their highest priority, influencing both where the family will live and often their parent's employment..

One of the factors expatriates will need to understand, particularly those who been outside the country for a number of years, in terms of choosing a school will be NAPLAN results - which form the core information available on the federal government's website:  NAPLAN results should not be the single most important factor you take into account when selecting and shortlisting schools, but they do have the advantage of providing an objective assessment of a school's relative academic performance.

NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program, Literacy And Numeracy, and these are a series of tests in literacy and numeracy, introduced in 2008, that all eligible Australian schoolchildren sit in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The literacy component consists of three tests: reading, writing and language conventions (i.e. spelling, grammar and punctuation) while the numeracy component comprises just one test for each participating year.

All states and territory governments, as well as all Catholic and private schools, agreed to participate in the national testing program as part of national funding agreements. The tests are held every year during one week in May, with parents receiving individual results for their children and results comparing states and territories, released in September. Individual school results are posted on the Myschool website at the end of the year.

Originally, many teacher organizations vehemently opposed the publishing of NAPLAN results, chiefly on the basis that information could be used to construct league tables, as has happened in the US and UK, where schools are ranked on performance. It has been found that in those countries schools very quickly adapted to the systems and (too) much energy and focus was placed on practicing for the assessments, rather than necessarily teaching the curriculum. However, NAPLAN tests are based on state and territory curriculum, so there is not necessarily an inconsistency.

The Myschool website and NAPLAN tests have however introduced a considerable amount of (much-needed) transparency into education performance in Australia. Some of the prestigious private schools have been seen to perform relatively poorly; which is very embarrassing when fees have been escalating at well above inflation rate in the private school sector for some time.

NAPLAN should provide measurable feedback on education performance, with improved granularity, as time goes by. However, it probably also means an increasing demand for "brighter students" within the private school system and more systematic entry exams - some private schools are already requesting details of a student's NAPLAN results prior to acceptance.