NOPLAN: Writing Results At Lowest Level Since Test Introduced

This year's results show writing levels have fallen to their lowest since NAPLAN was introduced.

This year's highly-anticipated NAPLAN results have revealed yet another disappointing decline in writing levels across the nation, and escalated the tension between the traditional and the digital.

One-fifth of students sat the digital version of tests for the first time in 2018, as schools across the nation gear up for the NAPLAN to move completely online by 2020.

While the first-look results showed national writing levels had dropped to their lowest in the decade since the NAPLAN was first introduced, interestingly Year 9 students who took the writing test online fared much better than those using pen and paper.

Source: Getty Images

Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at the University of Western Australia Dr Glenn Savage said this data reveals a tension between the traditional and digital testing methods.

"As we move to online testing for all by 2020, some argue we should be focusing on young people's digital literacy, while others say the real problem is that students can't do the test on paper," Savage told ten daily.

"Young people are now digital natives, [they] are more capable of using technology."

While there is no clear evidence why students' writing is continuing to decline, annual data shows these skills get worse as students progress through the years, becoming particularly low in Year 7 and especially Year 9.

The tests also found students perform much better in reading tests.

Savage said while he thinks Australia needs to be focusing on targeting digital literacy as we move towards the 2020 deadline, we can't overlook the fact that students still predominantly take other exams, including the Higher School Certificate, using pen and paper.

"You wouldn't want to move all the intervention work on writing to an online platform," Savage warns.

"Pen and paper isn't going away anytime soon."

Outgoing Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the online platform will "ultimately provide, faster, better and richer analysis for students, teachers and parents."

“Future school reforms must focus on driving individual student achievement and equipping teachers with the right tools in the classroom,” Birmingham said, adding that a new national school reform agreement between the Commonwealth and states and territories would be considered by COAG in the next few months.


While this year's results mostly emphasise a continuation of existing long-term trends, there are a few areas where improvements or declines are noticeable .

In particular, Savage says that while writing remains a core area of concern across the nation, we are seeing improvements across the country in related literacy tests, including spelling, grammar and punctuation.

"Things are moving in different directions," Savage said, adding that the discrepancy between longer and shorter form of writing tests comes down to differences in the way the two literacy components are assessed.

"It's not all bad news, but it's definitely not a completely rosy picture."

"If you look at the online version, young people will be asked where the punctuation should be in a particular sentence, or asked to identify what's wrong with a sentence," Savage explained.

"Young people are now digital natives." Image: Getty

"But the writing test is not just testing that students can do it correctly, it's also about the nature of their expression, and whether they can make convincing arguments."

According to Savage it can be much easier for young people to recognise errors in a given text rather than forming their own fully fleshed-out sentences.

state v state

Since testing first started in 2008, there have been consistent patterns in which states fare better. Schools in NSW, the ACT and Victoria continue to score higher and well above the national average, while the Northern Territory has vastly under-performed across all domains and all year levels.

But Savage said it's sometimes overlooked that in any testing where there is an average, there will always be a state who is above and a state who is below.

Across the country only 79.5 percent of year 9 students meet the minimum standard for writing, with similar trends seen in year 7.

READ MORE: NAPLAN Explained: What Exactly Are These Tests?

In the Northern Territory less than half of students meet that basic level, while in South Australia the results are better at 75 percent.

Savage said while these numbers may look high nationally, the minimum standard benchmark is realistically very low.

"It's not something we should be inspiring towards - we should be wanting 99 percent or 100 percent to be meeting that standard, because it's really the bare minimum."

More positively, across the nation more than 90 percent of students are meeting the minimum standard for reading, grammar and punctuation, spelling and numeracy.

Numeracy levels in Year 9 are high across the nation.

The release of the results this year were delayed by several weeks due to a storm of controversy surrounding how the results would be tabled, with strong debate on whether the online and paper results should be separated from each other.

Ultimately the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) decided to rely on expert evidence which showed that the two tests were similar enough to be reported under the same assessment scale.

READ MORE: Why NAPLAN Ticks The Boxes For Students And Teachers

“This was the first year in which some students took NAPLAN online and the transition was smooth, with feedback from schools at the time of testing stating that students found the online assessment engaging,” ACARA CEO Robert Randall said, despite huge backlash and attempts to boycott the results this year.

“The NAPLAN Online platform performed well and 99.8 percent of students were able to complete the assessment online.”

Birmingham said over 200,000 students completed the NAPLAN through the new online portal, and the overwhelming feedback from schools was positive.

"The best way for each teacher, parent or school to get the most out of NAPLAN in the future will be for all schools to move to the online format, providing all of the benefits of adaptive, online assessment," Birmingham said.

You can find ACARA's comprehensive look at the preliminary results here

To find out how your school compares to other similar schools visit the My School website.