Pioneer High School students took part in the NAPLAN test like  many students across the state.
Pioneer High School students took part in the NAPLAN test like many students across the state. Lee Constable

The alarming trend found in 2019 NAPLAN results

FORGET the cliche of going back to basics when it comes to educating our children, it needs to go in the opposite direction for the future of Queensland students.

That is the opinion of Dr Stewart Riddle, a senior lecturer in the University of Southern Queensland's School of Education, in the wake of the release of preliminary 2019 NAPLAN results.

It showed Queensland posted lower scores for 2019 in 12 categories out of 20 compared with 2018.

Dr Riddle said it was hard to draw much from that comparison, as it was between two completely different sets of students, but there was another trend we should be concerned with.

The state's Year 9 students reading and writing scores were close to the worst in the country, with more than 22 per cent of Queensland's Year 9 students not meeting the national minimum standard for writing, and more than nine per cent for reading.

He said comparing Queensland's Year 9 cohort to its results when they took the test as Year 3 students in 2013 was the real red flag.


EDUCATION: Doctor Stewart Riddle from USQ says NAPLAN doesn't tell us what we think it does.
Dr Stewart Riddle. Contributed

"There is a trend and this isn't a 2019 thing, it's persistent over the years," Dr Riddle said.

"There's a decline in the percentage of students who are at or above the minimum national standard from Year 3 to Year 9.

"This year in Queensland, 78 per cent of students who sat NAPLAN for writing were at or above the minimum national standard. Without making scary allegations the minimum standard is pretty low, it's not a Year 9 level of writing. It's not a high benchmark.

"Compare that to Year 3 this year in Queensland. About 96 per cent were at or above the minimum threshold. When you look back at data of this year's Year 9s when they were in Year 3... they were around the same around that 96 per cent mark.

"So there's a situation where kids when they first sit in Year 3 they're hitting (the national standard) but by the time they're in Year 9 there's a much bigger proportion who aren't."

He said the issue lay in students not being effectively taught how to write critically, creatively and persuasively.

"We often talk about getting back to basics in education," he said.

"I actually think if anything we need to do much more than just the basics... the issue is not one of basic grammar, it's one of sophistication of language.

"It's one of how do we support teenagers to be able to write and articulate themselves in ways that are critical and engaging. That goes beyond basics."

The standardised test, which began in 2008, has come under heavy criticism with Dr Riddle just one voice of many calling on it to be overhauled or scrapped.

More than 240,000 Queensland students sat for this year's NAPLAN tests, with about 70,000 taking it online, but technical issues forced thousands to resit the test.

"We have very little to show for the millions of dollars that has been pumped into it," he said.

Dr Riddle said the online numeracy test was different to the paper test, with kids who get initial their answers correct moved onto harder questions.

"If you get the easy ones wrong, it doesn't give you the harder ones," he said.

"It raises a bunch of questions how comparable the two are, given they are literally different tests.

"(The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) has to do this statistical foot work to be able to make a comparison. They assure us it's all legit. 37,000 had to resit the writing test because they'd seen the prompt and had to be given another one. A proportion had to do it again with a completely different topic."


Ipswich Girls' Grammar School Principal Dr Peter Britton.
Ipswich Girls' and Junior Grammar School principal Dr Peter Britton. Rob Williams

Ipswich Girls' and Junior Grammar School principal Dr Peter Britton said standardised tests like NAPLAN should not be the sole measure of the quality of a student's education or the school they attend.

"NAPLAN has become a high-stake test due to the development of rank orders and associated commentary," he said.

"Consequently, just mentioning the word NAPLAN in some circles ignites disapproval, anxiety or tears due to the pressure it creates on systems, schools, teachers, and students.

"There are numerous media stories about students becoming ill before tests and parents withdrawing students from tests. Educators have continued to voice opinions about the limitations of standardised tests like NAPLAN when assessing quality of education. Nevertheless, the tests do have a part in education."