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Identifying Student Performance in NAPLAN

By: Zora Zaric & Jay Wheatley

Assessment is a crucial aspect of the teaching and learning cycle. Throughout teacher education, it is a focal point in all subjects with one often dedicated solely to the assessment of students. In the classroom, when planning for the year, a teacher’s scope and sequence is underpinned by the syllabus requirements, outcomes and assessment needs.   

We are of course aware of various assessment strategies and types of assessment. The format, type and structure of the assessment can often be determined by the need for the assessment – what is the desired result? What are we attempting to assess? A good assessment system supports your efforts, by providing timely, relevant information to help address key questions about which students are on track to meet important standards and who may need additional assistance.   

Assessments that can early identify any students at risk of missing academic standards are especially useful, as they inform instructional decisions to improve student performance and reduce gaps in achievement.  

There are several factors that determine how useful assessments and data are to teachers for instructing practice. Two of the most important factors are quality and time, as they provide the context to the results, providing confidence that the assessment offers insights that can be actioned effectively to grow an individual student’s ability or skills. NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) is used nationwide in Australia and is administered to students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 once a year. The data from this assessment then determines how a student is progressing, and their needs for the next two years until they sit it again. This data, while very useful only paints a very limited picture of a student’s performance. When we look at this in relation to quality and time there are some obvious drawbacks. Was the student adequately rested and prepared for the assessment (quality) and how recent and reliable is the data (time)? Ideally there would be more frequency in the assessment but practically that doesn’t work for many reasons.  

The Renaissance Research and Product Development Team located in the US, undertook a study to see if NAPLAN results and Renaissance Star Reading® scores correlated. The aim was to provide teachers and schools with a measure that can be used to indicate student progress anchored to NAPLAN performance (a known and widely used benchmark scale) with data and insights that resolve the quality and time factors previously mentioned.   

In the Pathway to Proficiency: Linking Star Reading to the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) Reading Test technical paper (available here) based on the Renaissance Research team’s study, there is a table that was generated on the aggregate data provided from ACARA of 7,595 students from 82 schools who had completed NAPLAN and a Star Reading assessment within 30 days. This data was then used to create a linkage of the equivalent Star Reading Scaled Scores to NAPLAN performance bands. To verify this linkage the team used student level data provided to Renaissance from several schools across Australia to validate the initial study. The outcome? Star Reading Scaled Scores have a strong correlation with NAPLAN Reading score.  

How does this help in the classroom?  

Schools will use NAPLAN data for a variety of reasons. The external, standardised assessment allows different stakeholders to explore data in a number of ways. Parents have information about how their child is progressing relative to others and are able to make choices based on school and regional data too. Teachers and School Executive can use the information as a diagnostic tool, improving school strategies or identifying students in need of support.  

Whilst there are many positives to NAPLAN data, we must also look at the drawbacks mentioned; the fact that students are only sitting NAPLAN assessments every two years, significantly impacts our ability as teachers to use this information in the classroom in a timely manner. This is where interim assessments and progress monitoring become powerful tools.  

Progress monitoring with Star Reading provides a window on student performance not previously available. Progress monitoring goes beyond standardised testing to indicate not only where students are at but what their growth has been and what it needs to be. This has become even more valuable with the addition of the NAPLAN benchmarking.  

Now, teachers are able to administer a Star Reading assessment in class at any point throughout the year and receive an indication of how that student is expected to perform given a NAPLAN Reading assessment, assisting teachers to carve out a pathway to proficiency as required. 

With the NAPLAN Benchmarks, our analysis and correlation of the data now allows teachers to run a Star Reading assessment, look at the Scaled Score value and be able to make a direct comparison with the students’ achievement band in NAPLAN. Will the student be below, at or above the National Minimum Standard for their year level? It will also indicate the students predicted to perform in the Top Two Bands.  

Star Reading goes further to provide essential feedback at the individual level or for groups of students that simple point in time attainment measures cannot. Combined with teacher observations and expert judgment, monitoring student growth holds the potential to accelerate student learning.  

Student performance has often been understood based upon point in time assessments indicating the level associated with a students’ performance. With Renaissance assessments, tracking student growth provides a window on student performance not previously available to teachers and executive. Including student growth (and the skills required to achieve that growth) refines that point-in-time view of student performance and allows users to monitor the academic track of the student as it unfolds and make appropriate plans to maximise the progress of the student going forward.  

The NAPLAN Benchmark is available as a measure in standard Star Reading reports such as the Diagnostic and Screening Reports but also in two new NAPLAN Performance Reports (Class and Student). With this new information, teachers will be able to attain a measure for students in regard to reaching NAPLAN expectations as well as then take the steps required to apply interventions or extensions for those who require it.  

For students in ‘off-years’ (Years 2, 4, 6 and 8) and those who were unable to sit NAPLAN in 2020 due to the COVID 19 pandemic and restrictions on schools, the NAPLAN Benchmarking in Star Reading will offer insights into where their students are in relation to meeting proficiency for their next NAPLAN assessment. This will be hugely beneficial for those who will need assistance, interventions, the development of personalised learning plans and even noting those who are projected to reach the Top Two bands, in consideration of extending them now.  

What does your school’s assessment program look like? Are there gaps in your data and what tools can be used to get the right insights? A comprehensive assessment program is essential for every classroom and school. Ongoing, teacher-led assessment is a crucial part of effective teaching. Whilst standardised assessments provide schools with a wealth of information, schools should have the freedom to decide how to teach their curriculum and how to track the progress that pupils make. We know both summative teacher assessment and external testing are important, and accountability is key to a successful school system, and therefore must be fair and transparent.  

An assessment schedule that not only utilises NAPLAN data but various interim assessments like Star Reading allows for measures of both progress and attainment and are important for understanding school performance. This information is invaluable to school executive, teachers and parents.  

If you haven’t already read the Pathway to Proficiency report it is available for download here. Are you curious to learn how teachers and schools are using Renaissance solutions, including Star Reading to engage their students to attain higher levels of success through informed teacher led practice contact us here