Same words, different story: unpacking nine years of NAPLAN data for very remote Australia

Thursday, 23 March 2017
John Guenther

The latest national results for the National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) were released in December 2016 amid gloomy international comparisons and media messages that nothing has changed. Each year the story is more or less the same. Among the pessimistic reports and analyses, the failures of remote schooling are lamented even more. Teachers are blamed, parents are accused of not being interested in their children’s education and the tests themselves are blamed for their inappropriateness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. 

There is a different story. The story I tell in this paper uses NAPLAN data from the nine reports released since 2008. It shows that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from very remote Australia, overall trends are positive. My analysis shows, based on trends across all NAPLAN test domains, that the proportion of students from very remote Northern Territory achieving the national minimum standard has increased by 20 per cent since 2008. Nationally, the trend is similar, with an increase of 16 per cent. The paper argues that the reasons for these trends are not because of any single initiative, but because of sustained effort by all very remote education stakeholders.