There are fewer students in Tasmania who can spell and write above the national average than there were when NAPLAN testing was introduced 10 years ago.
The national tests were introduced for grades 3, 5, 7 and 9 in 2008 and measures students' and schools' performance over five key indicators - spelling, writing, grammar, reading and numeracy.
Analysis of NAPLAN results data for Tasmanian students who are above the national average for the five key indicators reflects a trend of incidental increase, of only 1-3 per cent over the 10 years to 2018.
In some grade levels and for some subjects, as for spelling, there are less Tasmanian students who are above the national average now than in 2008.
The effectiveness of standardised testing has been called into question over the 10 years since NAPLAN was introduced, with several calls made over the years to review the system in its current format.
University of Tasmania academic Damon Thomas, who is conducting a PhD study to investigate how NAPLAN informs secondary English teachers, said the results called into question the aims of the system.
"NAPLAN has its place so it's very important and the potential of it is massive," he said.
"However, it's a flawed system - one of the objectives is to drive school improvement, but the data shows that we haven't had that much improvement."
NAPLAN tests are conducted in May for all students across the grade and subject levels.
Each year more than one million students sit the tests nationally.
They are the only national assessments that provide nationally comparable data on the performance of students in the vital areas of literacy and numeracy.
Professor Thomas said the results were concerning, particularly when you take into account the national average is tabled as the average 'pass mark' for students.
Rates of those students who were at the 'pass mark' were not improving by much or were in relatively significant decline, depending on the grade level and the subject.
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ARGUMENT FOR PERSUASION
Data analysis of Tasmania's results shows that the rates of students who were above the national average for writing persuasive texts had actually declined over the past 10 years.
All grade levels showed a decline in the number of students who were above the national average when comparing 2008 to 2018.
Grade 9 students saw the biggest decline, with rates going down from 84.1 per cent to 75.9 per cent.
Professor Thomas said the data for writing also showed the biggest difference between the genders, with females outperforming males.
"In Grade 9 we are seeing that one in five men don't know how to write a persuasive text, which is the age when they are going to need it the most," he said.
Persuasive texts include essays, employment cover letters and texts such as letters to the editor or writing to a Member of Parliament.
"It's about presenting an argument, and persuading the reader towards your way of thinking, it's a crucial skill that adults need to have," Professor Thomas said.
Professor Thomas has studied NAPLAN and education performance for the past eight years and said his interest lay particularly in writing.
His research project is a joint one conducted with members from UTAS Law, Education and Arts faculties, along with the Peter Underwood Centre.
The two-year project aimed to understand how NAPLAN informed teachers in the secondary English classroom.
While he only has preliminary results so far, Professor Thomas said there had already been some surprising results.
"Regarding the value of NAPLAN, the majority of teachers believed it had improved how schools coordinate the teaching of persuasive writing; helped students improve their persuasive writing; supported their assessments of writing; and led to more teaching of persuasive writing in schools," he said.
However, that result was inconsistent with many other texts and research documents that had teachers views about NAPLAN at their core.
In addition, the research indicates that teacher attitudes towards NAPLAN and school norms were the two major contributing factors to how NAPLAN is perceived and used in Tasmanian secondary schools
VALUE OF NAPLAN
Professor Thomas said he believed NAPLAN was an important data collecting tool but said he believed a review of its aims was necessary.
"It hasn't created any changes to the student or school performance, so a review into how it could meet that objective is warranted," he said.
Professor Thomas said NAPLAN scores in Tasmania had not improved significantly in 10 years.
However, he said NAPLAN had provided a good outlet for parents and the wider community to understand school education outcomes and benchmarks.
"Everyone has an opinion on NAPLAN," he said.
"NAPLAN has given parents something to talk about with their kids, about how they are going, but it's a flawed system, it's not perfect."
Professor Thomas said one way NAPLAN could improve was in the release of the data.
"The tests are held in May each year but the data isn't released until much later in the year, too late for the schools to really implement anything before the end of the school year," Professor Thomas said.
Australian Education Union Tasmania branch president Helen Richardson said earlier this week said NAPLAN was a narrow view of student performance and advocated for a needs-based system.
"Lifting student outcomes means simply more than lifting NAPLAN results," Ms Richardson said.
"It is a narrow test and causes much stress for parents, students and teachers.
"Little has changed in over a decade but it shows we need to invest more in individual students to make sure they don't fall through the cracks.
"Tasmania has the highest number of all states for children with high and complex needs and we need more psychologists to deal with the trauma these children are dealing with."
Ms Richardson said the Tasmanian NAPLAN results showed there was a dire need for more investment for students with complex needs.
ONLY ONE PART OF THE STORY
Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff, who has in the past said he supported a review of NAPLAN to ensure it was as effective as it could be said the most recent results showed Tasmanian students were improving.
"Tasmania has recorded notable improvement for grades 3 and 5 in reading, grades 5 and 9 for numeracy and grade 5 in spelling," he said.
The Grattan Institute report Measuring Student Success released a break down of state-by-state comparisons of NAPLAN results, with socioeconomic status reflected in the results.
"Tasmania and the Northern Territory are often thought of as Australia's education under-performers but when school advantage is taken into account this is not the case," the report's authors Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann said in the report.
"This result suggests their schools are not, on average, doing a bad job. Rather, they are doing a tough job reasonably well."
Mr Rockliff said the report supported the assertion Tasmanian schools were performing relatively well.
However, he admitted that more work still needed to be done in order to continue to improve.
"As I've previously said, assessments such as NAPLAN are important because we need some form of benchmarking to drive improvement and accountability in education," he said.
"However, evaluation of NAPLAN is important too and we should be aiming to continuously improve."
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