NAPLAN improvements for Indigenous students but not everyone is taking the test

NAPLAN tests are showing up the gaps in Australian education. Exam image from www.shutterstock.com

The latest results from National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests show Year 5 Indigenous students have made real improvements in their reading scores.

The national report of NAPLAN results released today shows that Indigenous students, from Year 3 (2011) to Year 5 (2013), have seen greater gains than their non-Indigenous peers.

The results in reading for Indigenous students in Northern Territory in particular have doubled from Year 3 to Year 5. Year 5 students in most states have also gained on the reading tests.

But the gains for Indigenous students have come at a time when performance gaps remain between Indigenous and non-Indigenous and participation rates are also lower.

In Year 9, NAPLAN absentee rates for Indigenous students was high – 20.6% in reading and 21.7% in numeracy. In Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, absence rates for Indigenous students were even greater than 25% in both reading and numeracy.

The broader achievement gap remains with 94.6% of non-Indigenous Year 5 students at or above the national minimum standard in numeracy, while only 73.0% of Indigenous students met the same benchmark.

Students across Australia in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 sit the tests every year in May, which have been conducted since 2008.

Literacy expert Stewart Riddle said that despite the gains for Indigenous students, the figures highlight the problem of equity in Australia.

“What these figures show is that we are hiding a third-world education system within a first-world system,” he said.

Riddle said that one of the hidden issues was declining participation rates in NAPLAN, particularly for Indigenous students.

“The participation and performance of Indigenous students in NAPLAN, when put against the OECD’s international results released earlier this month, clearly demonstrate an equity issue.”

“Education minister Christopher Pyne will need to recognise this if we’re going to have any chance of improving outcomes for Indigenous, rural and remote students.”

He also noted that the overall student performance during the life of NAPLAN has remained steady.

Australian children’s performance on NAPLAN reading scores is stable. NAPLAN/ACARA

Squirrel Main, a researcher at the Melbourne Graduation School of Education, agreed that NAPLAN highlights the equity gaps in Australian education.

“This year’s NAPLAN scores contain no surprises, but still emphasise the inequality of a system where Australia is both failing its least advantaged students,” she said.

“Year 3 students whose parents are not in paid work are scoring almost 80 points lower in reading than their peers with parents in senior management positions. Year 9 students with unemployed parents are 70 points behind their peers. That gap stays with students throughout their schooling career.”

Performance in numeracy is also stable. NAPLAN/ACARA

Main also points out that children who speak a language other than English are performing as well – or outperforming – their peers.

“In NSW, the mean scores for students from a language background other than English are higher than the mean scores for students from an English-language background in persuasive writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and numeracy.”