Not all data comes from NAPLAN

6 December 2019

Below is the text of an article by Dr Lee-Anne Perry which appeared in the Courier-Mail on Friday, 6 December 2019

Despite the annual debate over NAPLAN testing, data that has been properly gathered and analysed is, and should remain, part of our education system. 

As the OECD’s Director of Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher has said, without data, all you have is opinion. 

Data on what students know and understand, where their learning gaps are, how they work with others, and how they are developing holisticallyis critical to good teaching. 

 NAPLAN is an important part of the data picture because the test has been expertly developed, it is administered under consistent conditions across the country, and is independently marked. 

 But it is only one part of the data picture.  No one test or assessment can provide all the data teachers need to form a comprehensive picture of each student.    

 Every year NAPLAN grabs national attention, in part because it provides a common focal point for a discussion about education in a nation where we still have varying state and territory systems. 

 It provides a national point-in-time benchmark in the key areas of literacy and numeracy through testing based on our curriculum and that’s a good thing. 

 It also allows some national comparison of our achievements and areas for improvement in education year on year, and now with 10 years of trend data available it sparks discussion about how we are shaping young people for their future. 

These are all positive contributions to continuous improvement of our education system, but they are not the only contributors to improving student outcomes. 

 Teachers use NAPLAN outcomes as part of a much broader set of data to understand how students are tracking, to plan their teaching going forward and to discuss students’ progress with families. 

 Throughout the school year teachers carry out ongoing assessment programs suited to the stage of development of their students.   

 These include formal tests, assignments, homework exercise, quizzes, and presentations. 

 This ongoing assessment gives teachers a chance to see students working with pen and paper, using digital technologies, giving oral presentations or performing in subjects such as music and drama.   

 Teachers also use other widely available, standardised tests to ensure they are making valid assessments of their students progress. 

 Such forms of data collection are an intrinsic part of 21st century teaching but equally important is the data teachers collect on the so-called soft skills of their students. 

 Are they learning to work in a team? Do they show responsiveness? How are they participating? Are they demonstrating appropriate social skills? Do they persevere when faced with challenges or difficult tasksThe answers to these questions form an important part of understanding where each student is at in their learning journey. 

 Grades and numbers are useful and important but so is understanding the data about these life skills that will allow students to keep on learning long after they leave school.  

 NAPLAN has an important place in this broad collection of data and is not to be ignored.  

 However, it’s the big picture, and how teachers use that to inform their teaching practice and their communication with families, that helps parents to support their child and each individual student to reach their next learning goal. 


Dr Lee-Anne Perry is the executive director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission and a former school principal. She was a member of the Gonski Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools.