Analysts say many of the major criticisms of NAPLAN are not borne out by evidence.

A review by the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) - a libertarian think tank – has found there is no rigorous evidence that NAPLAN tests have widespread negative effects on students.

It found there are three major benefits of NAPLAN:

  • enabling the identification of problems in the school system over time, and creating a means for evaluating potential solutions
  • making literacy and numeracy results transparent at a national, state and territory, and school level
  • holding governments and schools accountable for literacy and numeracy results, which is important given the significant financial investment made in them by taxpayers and parents

It also challenges four common criticisms of NAPLAN, whichhit says are not supported by rigorous evidence:

The first is that there has been no significant improvement since NAPLAN was first introduced in 2008.

Rather, CIS say NAPLAN results have improved significantly in some areas since 2008, and the overall trend has been positive, with the exception of writing skills.

“It is unreasonable to blame the NAPLAN tests for lack of further improvement, as NAPLAN identifies issues in the school system and does not solve them by itself,” the analysts say.

“Nevertheless, the fact that NAPLAN results have not improved more since 2008 warrants further investigation.”

The second criticism is that NAPLAN Harms students.

“The claim that NAPLAN tests harm students and causes significant student anxiety is based on surveys and small studies with serious methodological issues. A strong conclusion cannot be drawn based on the existing evidence to date,” CIS stated.

“In general, it is not clear that testing by itself harms students. Low-level student anxiety in preparation for any test is normal, and this is very different from serious mental health issues.”

Another issue that opponents of the testing regime raise is that publication of results on MySchool website harms schools.

“There have been no rigorous studies of how parents use MySchool data, and no substantial evidence to suggest MySchool has a negative effect on schools. Academic achievement is one of many factors parents use in choosing a school,” the analysis states.

“It is far better for parents to have access to objective NAPLAN data in their decision-making, rather than having to rely solely on other factors like school reputation, school uniforms, and school websites.”

Finally, some argue that the NAPLAN tests are too narrow.

The report says reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and numeracy are all necessary skills for students to succeed in later education and career paths, and that it has not been established that broader capabilities like creativity can be taught or assessed effectively.

“A focus on literacy and numeracy is appropriate given the large number of Australian children who do not have adequate skills in these areas,” CIS states.

The analysis outlines avenues for a possible future review of NAPLAN, which could consider:

  • how results can be better used as a tool to improve schools and teaching
  • what is preventing schools and systems from responding more effectively to NAPLAN results
  • how the purpose and benefits can be better communicated to stakeholders
  • how the administration of the tests can be improved
  • whether or not the assessments are too narrow a measure of student ability

The report is accessible here.