Students, teachers, parents and carers have been praised for their resilience, as the authority overseeing NAPLAN announced pleasing early results from the 2021 tests.

The NAPLAN 2021 summary information showed the pandemic had “no significant impact” on students’ literacy and numeracy achievements and long-term trend data showed “steady improvement in most literacy and numeracy outcomes”.

A number of year levels and domains had also experienced a gain in learning “equivalent to a school term” since testing began.

The statutory authority that oversees NAPLAN – the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) – said the results would be welcomed by governments, schools and families.

“The results suggest that persistent effort to improve outcomes pays off,” ACARA CEO David de Carvalho said in a statement.

“It is testament to the resilience of students, teachers, parents and carers, and school and system leaders during these challenging times.”

A quick re-cap on NAPLAN

NAPLAN – the annual point in time test for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 – has occurred in Australian schools since 2008. It is conducted at the same time every year – May – to give families and schools an understanding of how individual students are performing at the time of the test.

It’s also designed to serve as a “barometer” to examine trends in a student’s achievement over time: ae they continuing to build their skills in a certain area over the seven years of the test, or are they needing more help understanding key concepts?

The test is just one part of how a school assess and reports on a students learning  – it is not designed to replace a teacher’s usual methods for monitoring and reporting on students’ progress.

The new data provides comparisons of 2021 results with both 2019 and the base years (2008 for numeracy, reading and conventions of language, and 2011 for writing). NAPLAN was not undertaken in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2021 results in more detail

ACARA said while it was reassuring that overall literacy and numeracy standards had not significantly suffered despite COVID and remote learning, it did not mean there has been no impact  on specific students or demographic groups.

“Generally, the average trend is positive, with improvements for Year 3 and 5 reading and Year 5, 7 and 9 numeracy, showing gains equivalent to a term’s worth of learning since the base year,” Mr de Carvalho said.

“The overall decline in writing has begun to flatten, and achievement in Year 5, 7 and 9 has begun to reverse and show signs of an upward trend.”

The national summary preliminary results for 2021 show:

  • The 2021 results were not significantly different from the 2019 results
  • Compared with the base year, 2008 (2011 for writing):
    • Year 3 and Year 5 reading, Year 5 numeracy, and Year 3 and 5 spelling have significantly improved.
  • Taking all assessment years into account, the following has been observed:
    • Year 3 and 5 results have seen a steady upward trend in reading and Year 5, 7 and 9 have seen a steady upward trend in numeracy, resulting in total gains equivalent to at least 3 months of learning. o
    • The ongoing downward trend in writing in Year 5, 7 and 9 has begun to reverse, flattening and showing signs of an upward trend.
    • All years have seen a steady upward trend in spelling.

Hats off to students, parents and educators

Independent Schools Queensland Chief Executive Officer Chris Mountford said the results should reassure Queensland parents and teachers that student learning remains largely on track despite the disruptions and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Mountford said anecdotal reports from independent school principals indicate sector students have again performed strongly.

“Results for all Queensland school students show no statistically significant differences between the 2019 and 2021 tests,” he said.

“Reading in Years 3 and 5 continue to show the greatest gains over the 13 years since testing began and it’s pleasing to see writing starting to turn the corner in the early high school years.

“This is testament to the efforts and hard work of independent school principals, teachers, staff, students and parents over the past 18 months to ensure student learning is not a casualty of the pandemic.”

The next steps

Independent schools will review their student, class, year group and school-level results to identify who and what areas of classroom teaching and learning are doing well and where improvements could be made.

Parents with children who took part in NAPLAN should receive their child’s individual report sometime in Term 3.

Detailed NAPLAN data released in December will provide a more in-depth look at the learning trajectories of particular groups of students based on their locations and backgrounds.

This is important information that will help pinpoint any particular student cohorts that may need additional support.

In Queensland’s independent sector, school leaders and teachers have a range of checks and balances in place to monitor student progress during the year and across schooling years.

Many have also introduced a range of evidence-based programs to enhance the foundational literacy and numeracy skills of their students in the early primary years and to extend these skills in the early high school years.


The statement released by ACARA on August 25 also revealed some interesting statistics about the transition from the paper NAPLAN test to online.

ACARA said more than 1.2 million students took part in NAPLAN across more than 9,000 schools, with around 70 per cent of schools across the country undertaking the test online, submitting more than 2.9 million online tests from 870,000 students.

More information

In December 2020, ACARA published profiles of 24 schools across the country that have consistently shown above-expected progress in any NAPLAN domain.

Read the original statement from ACARA.

Read our story about the plans underway to ‘improve’ NAPLAN in future years.

Read the answers to some frequently asked questions about NAPLAN.

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