ACARA news, February 2016

NAPLAN is a vital tool to see if children are meeting essential standards

15 February 2016

Simply put, NAPLAN is a vital tool for parents, educators and the public to see if Australia's children are meeting essential literacy and numeracy standards.

Taking NAPLAN requires less than four hours over three days, four times during a student's time at school. It is a point-in-time snapshot assessment of a student's achievements in the important areas of literacy and numeracy. And from that small investment comes a wealth of student, school and national information.  Literacy and numeracy tests have been undertaken in schools throughout the country for decades. NAPLAN complements these tests and adds a valuable national dimension.

There's a lot that goes into a student's education and I know there's more to school than literacy and numeracy. NAPLAN doesn't test everything happening in the classroom or a school and isn't designed to assess a student's diverse and creative learning, entrepreneurial skills or risk-taking ability. However, it is focused on the critically important skills of literacy and numeracy, and NAPLAN data provides a wealth of information for teachers, schools, parents and carers and students. Why wouldn't adults want to know about their child or student's abilities in literacy and numeracy compared with their peers and, if necessary, seek assistance for their child or student as early as possible?

NAPLAN is also about providing information to the general community. As a caring society, we should all want our children to master and understand literacy and numeracy concepts and know how our future adults are tracking. As the chief executive of ACARA, I am genuine about wanting a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy for every young Australian – so that they are well placed to become productive and fulfilled members of society.

Not knowing this type of information doesn't benefit anyone. Denying access to such important information doesn't help students and it doesn't work for the community.

If students, either individually or sub-groups, can't read, write or understand numbers to a minimum standard, this has negative impacts right through their life. Ignorance of a student's abilities, strong or weak, in literacy and numeracy cannot be considered appropriate policy or strategy. NAPLAN allows us to know at important developmental stages areas of strength and development needs. Where intervention is needed, this can be sought as early as possible. And the more quality information we get on our students' literacy and numeracy abilities during the years, the better quality our response can be.

The idea of abandoning a test that provides us with nationally comparable data on a student's abilities in literacy and numeracy, and which we know benefits students, is an irresponsible proposition. As a country, we would then have no high-quality, nationally comparable literacy and numeracy data about our students' learning and no way of tracking trends in how students are improving across their schooling.

I'm never happy to learn about students who may find NAPLAN distressing, but it's the adults in our students' lives who need to keep NAPLAN in context and work with young people to help them manage this and other "tests" that they will face. I have always maintained that while some familiarisation of NAPLAN and its style of testing in the weeks leading up to NAPLAN is important, I do not agree with buying NAPLAN books, or with excessive coaching or drilling, or diverting a student's attention for weeks on end to NAPLAN. I believe that teaching the English and mathematics curriculum, along with the other subject areas in our broad, rich curriculum, is the best preparation for NAPLAN.

I know that the vast majority of teachers approach NAPLAN in the right way. They keep it in perspective, knowing that it is a snapshot in time of a student's abilities in literacy and numeracy and that it helps us to know as early as possible if that level is not going to serve them well as they progress through their schooling life.

Students should approach NAPLAN as they do any in-school assessment and try their best. There are no prizes for doing well in NAPLAN and no repercussions, other than support and assistance, for those who don't meet the minimum standards.

Parents and carers – before you listen to people proposing you boycott NAPLAN, I have one suggestion for something that you might do. Have a look at the sample NAPLAN questions that are freely available on the ACARA website.

I encourage you to sit down with your child and work through these questions with them. As you do this, please, ask yourself – what part of what you're seeing there do you not want your child learning or knowing about, and crucially, what part do you not want to know about if your child needs assistance in developing their literacy and numeracy skills? When it comes to your child's education, ignorance is not bliss.

Robert Randall, ACARA CEO

Welcome to Dr Fiona Mueller, ACARA's new Director, Curriculum

12 February 2016


I am pleased to welcome Dr Fiona Mueller to ACARA as Director, Curriculum. Fiona started with us on Monday 8 February 2016. 

Fiona’s appointment to ACARA follows a recruitment process in late 2015, which involved a national and international search to identify the most suitable person for the position of Director, Curriculum, at ACARA, replacing Dr Phil Lambert PSM, who formally completed his tenure at ACARA as General Manager, Curriculum, on 31 January 2016.

We were seeking a person who could provide high-quality national curriculum leadership, work in an innovative and strategic way as a member of the ACARA executive and manage the ongoing work of ACARA’s Curriculum unit. Fiona met these expectations and now assumes responsibility for ACARA’s curriculum group as the Australian Curriculum moves from a build and growth period to a focus on maintaining and improving.

Fiona comes to ACARA from the Australian National University College, where she was recently Acting Head. Formerly a teacher of English, history and foreign languages, Fiona has lengthy experience in primary, secondary and tertiary settings, both in Australia and overseas. Previous places of employment include the Australian Defence Force Academy (UNSW) and the NSW Board of Studies. Fiona’s doctoral research focused on the history and contemporary provision of single-sex education in the public sector.

Fiona's appointment ensures the continuation of strong curriculum and pedagogical leadership, and intellectual energy in the development and implementation of the Australian Curriculum for students in Foundation – Year 12. Fiona’s recent advisory and publication record, and her professional involvement in a range of forums have included advice on how some of ACARA’s programs can be improved. I welcome such feedback and look forward to working with Fiona as she assumes this executive role at ACARA. Fiona joins ACARA as the Curriculum unit enters a different but interesting phase, supporting school authorities and schools to implement the national curriculum, while also undertaking monitoring and international benchmarking to ensure the curriculum continues to be high-quality.

I look forward to introducing you to Fiona as we meet during the course of the year.

Robert Randall
Chief Executive Officer