This year’s early NAPLAN schedule has been slammed. 

The decision to hold NAPLAN tests in March instead of May has been criticised by education experts, who believe that the timing is too early to accurately assess progress and could harm vulnerable students. 

Over 1 million students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will undergo testing in coming weeks to evaluate their literacy and numeracy skills, but experts have raised concerns about the timing of the test.

New South Wales Education Minister Sarah Mitchell has defended the early testing, arguing that it would allow for quicker results and a better understanding of which students require additional support. 

However, Venesser Fernandes, a lecturer in educational leadership studies at Monash University, has suggested that the test's timing could result in low self-esteem for vulnerable students.

Dr Fernandes believes that the NAPLAN tests would be more effective if they were held at the end of the year, giving students more time to absorb knowledge. 

There are also concerns about the declining participation rates of some disadvantaged groups, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, remote and regional students, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Jenny Donovan, CEO of the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO), has identified many reasons for the decline in participation rates, including proficiency in English, learning difficulties, absenteeism, and withdrawals at the request of parents. Donovan has also pointed out that secondary student participation in NAPLAN testing has been persistently declining, with a sharp fall last year.

The NAPLAN tests are used to better understand how Australian students are progressing in their learning, which means that the data is most useful when as many students as possible participate. This year, there will be a change in how results are reported, with the 10-grade structure used in previous years being simplified to four.

State and territory governments need to ensure that the results can be compared to previous years. David de Carvalho, of test regulator Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), says there is a strong need to keep the test in perspective and encourage students not to feel apprehensive about it.