TRACEY SPICER: "It took an 11-year-old to convince me of the benefits of NAPLAN."

The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy – has been the subject of fierce debate since it was introduced in 2008.

Last month, John Ainley’s report for the Australian Council of Education Research showed that despite a decade of testing, there’s been no improvement in students’ maths and reading results.

According to some, Ainley’s report shows NAPLAN has failed.

In Queensland, Education Minister, Grace Grace said: “I want to have a look at how NAPLAN is being delivered in our classrooms and whether children are actually benefiting from the NAPLAN tests.”

This is entirely the wrong question.



Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that literacy and numeracy are essential life skills for our children. Instead, imagine there’s a far greater crisis: your fridge isn’t cooling your wine properly.

This calls for immediate action! You buy a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Every day, you check the thermometer, and every night you cry into your luke-warm Pinot Gris. Because despite repeated testing, your fridge’s performance remains sub-par.

Asking a test to improve children’s numeracy and literacy is like asking a thermometer to fix a fridge. It isn’t going to happen, because this isn’t what it’s designed to do.

That children aren’t benefiting from being tested is not a reflection on the test; it’s a reflection on how we’ve responded to the results of the test.

If we test our fridge and find it’s too warm, we call in a specialist to fix it. Somehow, we must find the money to fund it. If NAPLAN shows our efforts to teach literacy and numeracy aren’t working, only funding and resources will solve the problem. The test is a diagnostic tool, not a magic elixir.

This Glorious Mess takes on NAPLAN: Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo try their hands at some Year 3 and 5 NAPLAN questions, on our podcast for imperfect parents. Post continues after audio.



Imagine trying to improve something without measuring where you’ve started or how much progress you’ve made?

As a parent, I want this objective data to see how my kids are tracking, and where we need to focus to reach their full potential. An ongoing dialogue with teachers and the school is key to this, but so too is the ability to compare student and school improvements.

More importantly, we need independent benchmarking to understand how our states and country are performing.

NAPLAN hasn’t failed. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do. NAPLAN is telling us the system is failing our kids. That’s a bitter pill to swallow. But rather than wasting time complaining about the diagnosis, why don’t we apply ourselves to fixing it?

Fortunately, by pinpointing schools which have had breakthrough success, NAPLAN also tells us where we’ve succeeded.

Included in Dr Ainley’s report is an important nugget of information. The most improved schools are those which have funded specialist programs. They’ve engaged experts with innovative ideas to take account of the special needs of the children.

The results point to a way forward, but governments need to step up.

If they don’t, they’re short-changing our children and our nation.


As Gracie said to me after doing her Year 5 NAPLAN test, “It was really good, Mum. I can see how I’m going, and how the school’s going. It’s fun to keep track. When can I do it again?”

Gotta love the wisdom of children.

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