National Report on Schooling in Australia 2013

National initiatives and achievements

2.6 Promoting world-class curriculum and assessment

Australian governments are committed to working together with all school sectors to ensure world-class curriculum and assessment for Australia at national and local levels (Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians 2008).

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is an independent statutory authority responsible to the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood (SCSEEC) ¹.

In terms of curriculum and assessment, the functions of ACARA² are to:

• develop and administer a national school curriculum, including content of the curriculum and achievement standards, for school subjects specified in the charter 4
• develop and administer national assessments
• provide school curriculum resource services
• provide information, resources, support and guidance to the teaching profession.

The ACARA Charter specifies strategic directions for the authority in the key areas of curriculum and assessment at the national level as:

1. a national curriculum from Foundation15 to Year 12 in specified learning areas
2. a national assessment program aligned to the national curriculum, that measures students’ progress.

The Australian Curriculum

There are eight learning areas in the Australian Curriculum, corresponding to those listed by education ministers in the Melbourne Declaration:

• English
• Mathematics
• Sciences (including Physics, Chemistry, Biology)
• Humanities and Social Sciences (including History, Geography, Economics and Business, Civics and Citizenship)
• The Arts (performing and visual)
• Technologies (including Digital Technologies 5, and Design and Technologies)
• Health and Physical Education
• Languages (especially Asian languages).

In addition to its focus on learning areas, the Australian Curriculum includes seven general capabilities: literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology capability, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding. These are addressed where relevant to the learning area. The Australian Curriculum also focuses on three cross-curriculum priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures; Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia; and Sustainability. As with the general capabilities, these are addressed where relevant to the learning area.

Curriculum development process

The overall development of the Australian Curriculum from Foundation to Year 12 (F–12) is guided by the Shape of the Australian Curriculum, first approved by education ministers in 2009. The most recent version, Shape of the Australian Curriculum version 4.0, was published in 2012.

The process and specifications for the development of the Australian Curriculum are described in two key documents: the Curriculum Development Process v6.0 (April 2012) and the Curriculum Design Paper v3.1 (June 2013). Each phase of curriculum development involves substantial consultation with government and non-government education authorities, professional associations, teachers, academics, business, industry, parent and community groups, and comprehensive review and revision processes.

The Australian Curriculum Consultation portal allows stakeholders and the general public to read and review draft curriculum materials as they become available.

Further information on the curriculum development process, including an infographic summarising the process, is available on the ‘Curriculum’ pages of the ACARA website.

Once endorsed by education ministers, curriculum documents are progressively released on the ACARA Australian Curriculum website. In each curriculum, the content descriptions specify what all young people should be taught, and the achievement standards set out the depth of understanding and sophistication of skill expected of students at particular points in their schooling. Other information is provided to support content descriptions and achievement standards. Each endorsed curriculum includes a rationale, aims, year- or band-level descriptions, information on organisation of the curriculum, content elaborations, annotated portfolios of student work samples and a glossary.

The Australian Curriculum Foundation – Year 10 (F–10) for English, mathematics, science and history was endorsed in 2010. Education ministers endorsed the F–10 curriculum for geography in May 2013, and the F–10 curriculum for drama, dance, media arts, music and visual arts in July 2013. In November 2013, ministers noted the F–10 curriculum in economics and business, civics and citizenship, design and technologies, digital technologies, and health and physical education, and agreed that curriculum could be made available for state and territory use. Development and consultation on F–10 curriculum in a number of languages continued during 2013. The draft Australian Curriculum: Work Studies, Years 9–10 also underwent national consultation in late 2013.

Responsibility for implementing the Australian Curriculum lies with each state and territory. Implementation of English, Mathematics, Science and History Australian Curriculum for F–10 commenced in some jurisdictions in 2011 with substantial implementation in 2013 in most states and territories.

In December 2012, education ministers endorsed the curricula for 14 senior secondary subjects for English, mathematics, science and history as the agreed and common base for development of state and territory senior secondary courses. The senior secondary geography curriculum was endorsed by ministers in July 2013.

The senior secondary Australian Curriculum for each subject specifies content and achievement standards. The content describes the knowledge, understanding and skills that are to be taught and learnt. The achievement standards describe the quality of learning (the depth of understanding, extent of knowledge and sophistication of skill) expected of students who have studied the subject’s content.

State and territory curriculum, assessment and certification authorities are responsible for determining how the senior secondary Australian Curriculum content and achievement standards are to be integrated into their courses.

School curriculum resource services and information and support to the teaching profession

While implementation of the Australian Curriculum is a matter for each state and territory, ACARA works with states and territories to facilitate this implementation. This includes working with jurisdictions, non-government school sectors and other agencies to provide tools and resources to support schools, teachers and the public in implementing and interacting with the Australian Curriculum.

Education Services Australia (ESA) is a ministerial company established by SCSEEC to support delivery of national priorities in the school, training and higher education sectors. Major functions of ESA include: to create, publish, disseminate and market curriculum and assessment materials; to research, test and develop technologies and communication systems for use in education; to devise, develop and deliver curriculum and assessment support services.

ACARA collaborates with ESA regarding online resource discovery, development and access, and with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) regarding professional learning requirements in relation to the Australian Curriculum.

To ensure the Australian Curriculum is accessible to all students, ACARA publishes advice and examples on the ‘Student diversity’ section of the Australian Curriculum website.

The National Assessment Program

The National Assessment Program (NAP) is an ongoing program of assessments to monitor progress towards the educational goals for young Australians. The NAP encompasses the annual national literacy and numeracy tests (NAPLAN), three-yearly sample assessments in science literacy, civics and citizenship, and information and communication technology (ICT) literacy, and Australia’s participation in international assessments.

National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)

NAPLAN is an annual assessment for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in the areas of reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, punctuation and grammar) and numeracy.

NAPLAN tests were first conducted in 2008, replacing former state- and territory-based literacy and numeracy tests. ACARA has been responsible for the development and oversight of the delivery of the NAPLAN tests since 2010.

For national reporting purposes, key performance measures (KPMs) have been approved by ministers for reading, writing, numeracy and participation. These KPMs are reported for NAPLAN 2013 in Part 5.1: Student achievement: National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).

Further information about the 2013 NAPLAN test results is available in the NAPLAN National Report for 2013 on the ACARA National Assessment Program (NAP) website. This report provides data on results including breakdowns by state and territory, and by student background characteristics, including sex, language background, Indigenous status, geolocation, and parental education and occupation. The data are also available in interactive form from the ‘Results’ page of the NAP website.

Further information about NAPLAN for parents, schools and students is also available on the NAP website. This information includes samples of the individual student reports that are provided to all students who participate in the NAPLAN tests, and background information about the NAPLAN tests. Average NAPLAN results for schools are reported on the My School website.

The National Assessment Program – sample assessments

The national sample assessments test students’ skills and understanding in science literacy (Year 6), civics and citizenship literacy (Years 6 and 10) and information and communication technology (ICT) literacy (Years 6 and 10). Sample groups of students participate in these assessments, which are held on a rolling three-yearly basis. Sample assessments began in 2003 with science literacy, followed by civics and citizenship literacy in 2004 and ICT literacy in 2005.

The fourth Civics and Citizenship assessment was undertaken by a more than 11,000 Year 6 and 10 students between October and November 2013. For the first time, the assessment included an online test with multiple-choice and open-ended questions, and an online student questionnaire. The same test was made available to schools on USB drives as a back-up delivery method.

Information on results of the 2013 NAP – Civics and Citizenship assessment, including the key performance measures related to it, is included in Part 5.2: Student Achievement – National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship. The report on this sample assessment, 2013 National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship public report is available on the ACARA National Assessment Program website.

National Assessment Program – international assessments

There are two NAP sample assessments, conducted by international organisations, which are used as a basis for key performance measures in the Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia: the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

PISA is conducted every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and involves assessment of a sample of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. The most recent PISA assessment was conducted in 2012 and was reported in the National Report on Schooling in Australia 2012. Reports and key findings from PISA 2012 are available on the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) website.

TIMSS is a four-yearly international sample assessment of student achievement in Mathematics and Science at Years 4 and 8, administered by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The most recent TIMSS assessment was TIMSS 2011. Information on the performance of Australian students in TIMSS 2011 is available on the ACER website.

National Online Assessment

In July 2013, education ministers agreed to guiding principles for national online assessment that provide strategic direction to ACARA for online delivery of NAPLAN 6. This follows SCSEEC’s previous commitment to trial an electronic onscreen delivery platform for National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship (NAPCC) in 2013.

The principles are grouped under three broad headings that require online assessment to:

• support quality teaching and learning
• deliver better national and assessment information
• broaden the curriculum coverage of assessments.

Ministers noted that: 'A national online assessment capability will enhance the NAP and will provide the opportunity to deliver new, flexible, optional, high quality assessments that support learning.'

There are three components in the program to move NAPLAN online:

• developing the platform, known as the online national assessment platform. This is being developed by Education Services Australia (ESA).
• ensuring NAPLAN and sample assessments ready to run online. ACARA is responsible for this component.
• readiness of schools and school authorities to implement the tests, including devices and training.

ACARA, ESA and the Australian Government Department of Education are working with state and territory school authorities to ensure the three components of the program are fully coordinated.

In August 2013, ACARA investigated the feasibility of proposed multi-stage, branching test design (tailored test design) for the implementation of NAPLAN as a computer-delivered assessment. More than 23,000 tests in reading, numeracy and writing were delivered in 250 schools during the trial period. Studies in 2014 will finalise the measurement aspects of the tailored test design.

In late 2013, the NAP sample assessment in Civics and Citizenship was conducted online for the first time.

Further information on online assessment is available on the ACARA NAP website.

¹ From July 2014, SCSEEC is known as Education Council

² Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Act (2008), Section 6. (ACARA's functions in data collection and reporting are outlined in Part 2.8: National initiatives and achievements – strengthening accountability and transparency.)

³ SCSEEC determines the ACARA Charter and specifies subjects for development within the charter and letter of expectations.

4 The Foundation year (first year of full-time schooling) is known as Preparatory in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania; Kindergarten in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory; Reception in South Australia; Pre-primary in Western Australia; and Transition in the Northern Territory.

5 Previously called information and communication technology

6 The Education Council has since agreed (2014) that NAPLAN online would be implemented from 2017 on an opt-in basis over two–three years.

Back to top