‘Work to do’: Education Minister addresses NAPLAN fail

 

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell says there is "work to do" in our high schools following the release of disappointing NAPLAN results today which reveal students are performing worse in reading and writing than they were a decade ago.

She said the rollout of "outcomes based funding" for schools announced earlier this year would make sure taxpayers are getting bang for their buck from schools teaching literacy and numeracy.

"For us in NSW we have seen consistent results in our primary schools which is encouraging, but clearly there are indications there (is) work to do within our high schools," she said.

"We also announced this year that we will be looking at outcomes based budgeting for education, we're the first cluster that will be doing that in the state.

"That's about making sure every dollar that is going in is going toward improving student outcomes ... What I want to see as minister is a lift in results over time."

Pupils at Kingswood’s St Joseph's Public School: Asal Nematzadeh, 9, Pallav Giddaluri, 9, Cassidy Watson, 10, Edmond Williams, 8, Charli Hofmeier, 9, and Dreisson Nugroho, 11; the school has lifted its literacy results in NAPLAN thanks to dedicated instructional leaders Picture: Tim Hunter.
Pupils at Kingswood’s St Joseph's Public School: Asal Nematzadeh, 9, Pallav Giddaluri, 9, Cassidy Watson, 10, Edmond Williams, 8, Charli Hofmeier, 9, and Dreisson Nugroho, 11; the school has lifted its literacy results in NAPLAN thanks to dedicated instructional leaders Picture: Tim Hunter.


While she said she supported standardised testing, the technical bungles with NAPLAN which saw the website crash this year and students were able to access spell check and Google to check answers raised serious questions about the current state of the test.

NSW joined Queensland and Victoria earlier in the year going rogue to conduct their own review of the NAPLAN test.

"We need to look at all elements of the test, make sure that it is assessing what it should, make sure it is linked to the curriculum, that it is useful data for teachers and policymakers and that it is showing student growth," she said.

Results released today show NSW students are worse at grammar and punctuation than their peers were a decade ago as experts warn "autocorrect" typing tools and skim reading on digital screens are to blame for a slump in NAPLAN test results.

 

Fewer children in Years 5, 7 and 9 achieved the minimum national standard for grammar and punctuation this year compared to in 2008 when testing began, despite an increase in education spending per student in that time.

According to preliminary NAPLAN results released on Wednesday, NSW Year 9 reading scores also dropped compared to a decade ago, while Year 7 students results were worse in every subject except spelling.

About 90.8 per cent of Year 9 students achieved at or above minimum standard for grammar and punctuation - successfully answering questions about where to place an apostrophe or speech marks - down from 93.3 per cent last year and 91.4 per cent in 2008.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell says there is “work to do”. Picture: AAP
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell says there is “work to do”. Picture: AAP

The stagnating results come as spending on government schools increased per student overall.

Analysis by the Grattan Institute found effective funding per student to government schools increased by 4 per cent in the decade to 2016-17 to $16,023 a year.

While spending is estimated to have increased by a further $430 per student in the last two years due to extra state and commonwealth funding under the Gonski model.

University of Sydney cognitive psychology professor Sally Andrews said students' poorer grammar skills could be the result of an increase in "skim reading" on screens.

"That means that they're not picking up on the subtleties of sentence construction and punctuation marks that occur when you read a book on paper," she said.

"Because of the nature of the goals of the reader, whether in the classroom or their own reading, that sort of skimming strategy will reduce children's sensitivity to punctuation and typical grammatical structures."

Mum Louise Talbot and her kids Harrison, 12, Jess, 14, and Ethan, 8, who all completed NAPLAN this year. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Mum Louise Talbot and her kids Harrison, 12, Jess, 14, and Ethan, 8, who all completed NAPLAN this year. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Director of SIGI Learners - a Sydney-based tutoring company - Scott Yung said using "autocorrect" functions when typing also impacted on writing skills.

"These days you don't need a fancy device or program to have autocorrect, it's in Microsoft and every smartphone," he said.

"Your brain is less proactive about making word and grammar choices if your writing is automatically being fixed."

Mr Yung said he believed the curriculum over-relied on students picking up grammar skills by reading.

"There's not enough emphasis on grammar and punctuation," he said.

"A lot of parents share with us their concerns that their child is just expected to pick up those skills through reading rather than specifically learning them in a dedicated class."

Australian Catholic University education expert Professor Kevin Donnelly said students were not getting enough explicit instruction for reading, grammar and punctuation because the NSW curriculum had become crowded with politically correct clutter.

"There is too much focus on the cross-curriculum priorities, whether it is indigenous history and culture or study of Asia or sustainability in the environment," he said.

"There is too much emphasis on those three and it just makes it harder for teachers to focus on what is essential and what they really should be doing."

The NSW English Curriculum was updated in 2012 with an increased focus on grammar.

But Centre for Independent Studies Education Research Fellow Blaise Joseph said over time the mechanics of English language teaching had become "less rigorous".

Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said it was “no surprise” some NAPLAN results had declined as schools were being “starved of support” by the Federal Government. Picture: Supplied
Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said it was “no surprise” some NAPLAN results had declined as schools were being “starved of support” by the Federal Government. Picture: Supplied

"There is an inconsistency with how grammar and punctuation are taught - going through and teaching them explicitly … arguably occurs less now than when it used to be," he said.

Year 3 students this year punched above their weight, topping the country in all five subject areas and improving on the percentage of students who achieved at or above the minimum standard compared to 10 years ago.

Education Minister Dan Tehan praised the Year 3 results but acknowledged there was still "room to improve," particularly in the high school years.

"Our Government continues to support the principle of NAPLAN because we believe that

parents and teachers want to see how students are progressing across their time at school

and against a national measure," he said.

"It is a crucial tool for parents to understand how their child is progressing in their education

and where they might need more support."

Labor's education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said it was "no surprise" some NAPLAN results had declined when the marks needed to get into teaching were falling and schools were being "starved of support" under the Federal Government.

"Our hardworking teachers are being asked to do more with less," she said.

University of Sydney Professor Sally Andrews said compared to days gone by, these days students were used to skim reading on screens.
University of Sydney Professor Sally Andrews said compared to days gone by, these days students were used to skim reading on screens.

Ms Plibersek said Australian kids needed to "know the basics".

"It's the foundation of the rest of their education. We can't afford for the next generation to be held back."

St Joseph's Primary School in Kingswood have lifted their literacy results in NAPLAN thanks to dedicated instructional leaders, funded by the NSW Government's Literacy and Numeracy Action Plan.

The school has had instructional teachers for the past two and a half years and over that time there has been a decrease in the number of vulnerable students in literacy and numeracy.

"We have had proven success, our improvement in our NAPLAN results and our other assessment data results over the last few years have proven that the model has worked," the school's assistant principal Lisa Howell said.

In addition, the school is bolstering literacy by promoting "reading stamina" this year.

"We are really focusing on students being able to maintain reading for longer periods of time."

As part of the program Kindergarten to Year 6 students are encouraged to read every day and children's authors visit the school.

YEAR 3 TEST

YEAR 5 TEST

YEAR 7 TEST

YEAR 9 TEST