Understanding NAPLAN Results & Limitations
So NAPLAN results are in, but do we as parents really understand what the numbers are saying?
Whilst there are caveats regarding the natural variation in the results. The potential and scope for variations are far from clear.
How Accurate Are the Results
In NAPLAN for each subject area, the reality is that there is very limited testing.
For example, if Daniel obtained 23/40 and Lilly 25/40 in the numeracy section, we cannot make a definitive conclusion that Lilly is better than Daniel in numeracy in general.
This is because of the limited number of questions. This also means that from test to test, without any ‘real’ change an individual score will naturally vary.
So how accurate are the results?
Statistically speaking, on a 40 question test, scores for an individual child could vary by ±12%. That is, if Daniel achieved 70% on the 2016 test, he could be expected to achieve somewhere between 58% and 82% on the 2017 test. So, whilst the NAPLAN results provide an indication, one test of a limited length may not be sufficient to establish their capability with confidence.
School Level Results
The individual student results are aggregated to determine the school level results. These contain less variation as the individual results as the sample size is larger. However, now we have to take into account variation as a result of the individual teacher.
A teacher can expect that their class average NAPLAN score may vary by around 10% year to year, simply as a result of random cohort fluctuations rather than a change in performance.
Student Performance Vs School Performance
One of the biggest concerns with linking student performance to school performance is simply that students’ knowledge is cumulative. A teacher would only typically have taught a student for three months when the NAPLAN test is taking place.
For those students in Year 7, and even to some extent, Year 9 it is reasonable that low scores may not be a result of the current teaching but that the student did not receive a solid foundation in the primary years.
So What Does This All Mean?
In short, NAPLAN provides a guide but we should use caution when applying comparisons.
Whenever comparative results are presented, always ask whether difference could be a result of random fluctuations or ‘real’ differences.
Not only can school results vary by up to 10% year on year, an individual student's results could vary by ±12% across similar test purely as a result of the limited scope of the assessment.
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