Hard work finding the small steps of progress in Territory education


The preliminary NAPLAN results
You have to work hard to find a positive for the Northern Territory out of the preliminary results for NAPLAN – National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy – released on Friday. New Education Minister Robyn Lambley did, pointing to the percentage rate of improvement in the proportion of students at or above the National Minimum Standard in the Territory being stronger than in other jurisdictions.
She also said that Territory students tested in 2008, 2010 (she probably means 2011) and 2012 showed the greatest gains nationwide, which “shows the hard work and commitment of Territory teachers is slowly paying dividends”.
However, Mrs Lambley described the gains since 2011 as “marginal” and acknowledged that the Territory still has “the nation’s poorest education outcomes”.
To give readers some idea of the size of the gap: at Year Three level across the various tests no other jurisdiction reports less than 90% of its students being at or above the National Minimum Standard (with a few exceptions in 2008). In the Territory only the spelling test provides the Year Three high point of 70.4%, markedly up on 2011 at 61%. However this rise, pointed to by the Minister, is largely offset  by the drop in Numeracy attainment, from 77% in 2008 to 69.6% in 2012.
At Year Five level, for the range of tests in 2012 no other jurisdiction reports less than 87.5% of its students being at or above the National Minimum Standard, with the national average being over 90%. In the Territory, the highest result is for Numeracy, with 66.1%; the lowest, is for grammar and punctuation at 58.5%.
The story is similar for Years 7 and 9, with the best results being in numeracy, scoring 70.2% and 73.4% against national averages of 93.7% and 93.5%.
The preliminary results also report the NAPLAN mean scores for 2008, 2011 and 2012 and assess the statistically significant differences between 2008 and 2012, as well as between 2011 and 2012. The NT results show no significant difference in all results except for Year Three spelling which, as stated, is significantly higher. Some jurisdictions show significantly lower scores for some tests and indeed the national average is significantly lower for some tests. Mrs Lambley comments: “It is a credit to the effort of Territory educators that they have defied national trends and largely maintained outcomes at around existing levels.”
Would this have been the case if the Territory had not had such a high rate of absenteeism from the tests? Arguably the results would have been worse.
Absenteeism in the NT starts bad at Year 3 level – 10.7% absent for the reading test, compared to a national average of 2.7%; 12.1% for the numeracy test, compared to a national average of 3.1%. It stays bad in Years 5 and 7 with roughly similar rates, and gets worse in Year 9, with 14.9% absent for the reading test against a national average (also worse) of 6.5%, and 16.3% absent for the numeracy test, compared to the national average of 7.2%.
The Minister has characterised the Territory’s progress as “small steps on a long journey”. However, the results should be considered in the context of  the extensive additonal investment made in education, particularly in Indigenous schooling, says longtime educator Ralph Folds, and in that light they are “disappointing”. Mr Folds was a remote area school principal for 16 years and is author of Whitefella School: Education and Aboriginal Resistance (Allen & Unwin, 1987) and Crossed Purposes: The Pintupi and Australia’s Indigenous Policy (UNSW Press, 2001).
“These results show that concerted, and expensive, efforts to lift Indigenous outcomes by investing purely in education, through new literacy programs, support services and better facilities, have not paid off. Much more important is the big picture. When education becomes truly useful and important in Indigenous lives then their school outcomes will take off, and, it seems, not before.”
In relation to the NAPLAN test, the Alice Springs News Online asked him how significant and accurate the results are as a refection of what is going on for students, and to what extent should aiming to achieve better NAPLAN results shape what is going on in classrooms.
Mr Folds replied: “NAPLAN is a well researched and designed, comprehesive national test of the skills every child should have. The outcomes are far more significant than any other results available to us and most critics of NAPLAN simply do not like the reality it reveals.”
Note: Data containing regional break-downs and other student sub-groups such as gender will be released on December 17 and individual school results will be available in February next year. Families will receive individual student NAPLAN results this week.
Click here for the NAPLAN summary report.


  1. NAPLAN does not measure the underlying social determinants that influence a child’s capacity to learn numeracy and literacy skills. Until we have that data, the “results” are meaningless. The high number of students “encouraged” to stay away from school when the assessments in this jurisdiction are conducted is another measure of “skewed” results.

  2. And also not forgetting the weeks of pre training for students so they can do well in the test. So why is it used as a tool when it is clearly not. Why not give uni students the answers for their exams to practice for weeks to ensure they all pass. Labor governments really are about smoke and mirrors. And our kids suffer further neglect due to false stats.

  3. Phil,
    That is a big statement. Who encourages students to stay away during NAPLAN? That would be a breach of the “protocols”.


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