Victorian primary school students achieved the best NAPLAN results in the country this year, despite many spending more than 120 days learning from home since the pandemic started.
Australian students’ literacy and numeracy skills did not suffer because of last year’s lockdowns, the annual test shows, but experts warn it is too early to conclude that their education emerged unscathed.
Australian students’ literacy and numeracy did not suffer during the pandemic.
Victorian schools were closed for much of last year but improved on 2019’s results in year 3 and 5 reading and year 7 writing. The 2020 NAPLAN tests were cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
The only domain in which the state’s students have gone significantly backwards compared with the first year of NAPLAN in 2009 is year 9 writing.
However, the 2021 results have not yet been broken down into sub-groups, so do not show whether disadvantaged, Indigenous or students living in particular areas fared worse during protracted periods of remote learning last year. That breakdown will be released later this year.
Schools have also focused heavily on literacy and numeracy since face-to-face learning resumed last year. The tests do not look at whether they fell behind in other areas, such as general knowledge and socialisation.
The chief executive of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, David de Carvalho, said the results offered reassurance that students’ literacy and numeracy standards have not significantly suffered.
“However, this does not mean there has been no impact on specific students or demographic groups,” he said. “We can’t rule out that once you drill into the demographic groups, you may see something, and when you get to the school level as well, we may see something there.”
Since 2008, when NAPLAN was first held, the national year 3 and 5 reading, year 5 numeracy and year 3 and 5 spelling have significantly improved, with students gaining the equivalent of about three months of learning.
There has been a steady upward trend in spelling, and even writing – which had been going backwards for 10 years – has seen slight improvement.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said the “phenomenal result” highlighted the “extraordinary resilience of our students” and the dedication and passion of teachers and principals.
“To lead the nation in NAPLAN after what our students have worked through, the challenges they’ve faced through months of remote learning, is just an outstanding result,” he said.
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said the steady results were a relief, but he remained concerned about the ongoing impact of school closures on young people. “I am also concerned that some individual families have really struggled with schooling and may have disengaged altogether,” he said
Jordana Hunter, the education program director at the Grattan Institute, said NAPLAN was a helpful measure of literacy and numeracy achievement but it did not capture the full experience of school.
“Students, teachers and parents have reported that engaging successfully with remote learning was very challenging and there’s serious questions about how well it can be sustained in the longer term,” she said.
Glenn Fahey from the Centre for Independent Studies said fears of catastrophic learning loss have been averted, but it’s still “too soon to declare educational victory over COVID”.
”If there’s anything we’ve learned from COVID-19 indicators, it’s that we need to look at more than one indicator – consider also engagement, attendance, retention, and of course mental health indicators that are very troubling. There can be a lag in seeing these effects on learning,” he said.
Victorian students missed up to 108 days of face-to-face learning last year, while Queensland and ACT students missed 29 days and NSW students missed 28 days. All schools are closed in Victoria now, other than for children of permitted workers and vulnerable children.
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