Australia's future depends upon each citizen having the knowledge, understanding, skills and values necessary to provide the basis for a productive and rewarding life for citizens in an educated, just and open society. High quality schooling is central to achieving this vision.
The National Assessment Program (NAP) is the measure through which governments, education authorities, schools and the community can determine whether or not young Australians are meeting important educational outcomes.
In a world where people are increasingly mobile, the majority of today’s students can be expected to live and work in a range of places in Australia and overseas. It is important that there be consistent and well understood measures of student achievement around the country, and that the outcomes of these assessments be used to inform future policy development, resource allocation, curriculum planning and, where necessary, intervention programs. The NAP provides useful nationally comparable evidence about student achievement. By participating in these assessments schools benefit not only their own students, but also the students in every state and territory.
Benefits of the NAP
Two benefits of the NAP are to help drive improvements in student outcomes and provide increased accountability for the community.
All Australian schools benefit from the outcomes of national testing. Schools can gain detailed information about how they are performing, and they can identify strengths and weaknesses which may warrant further attention. Aggregated results are made available through comprehensive reports at the national and school level. National level aggregated results are also available online. For more information on how results are reported, see Test Results.
At the system level, the NAP provides education ministers with information about the success of their policies and resourcing in priority curriculum areas. The NAP also provides ministers with the capacity to monitor the success of policies aimed at improving the achievement of different student groups, such as Indigenous students.
Without the nationally comparable data about student performance that the NAP provides, states and territories have only limited information about the achievement of their students in relation to their peers. NAP data provide an additional suite of information, thus enhancing the capacity for evidence-based decision making about policy, resourcing and systemic practices.
The NAP also performs an accountability function. Australians can expect education resources to be allocated in ways that ensure that all students achieve worthwhile learning during their time at school. The reported outcomes of the NAP enable the Australian public to develop a general national perspective on student achievement and, more specifically, an understanding of how their schools are performing.
In 1999, ministers of education released the Adelaide declaration on national goals for schooling in the 21st century (Adelaide Declaration). In this declaration, ministers agreed to report on progress towards the achievement of the national goals comparable by state and territory, using national key performance measures as the basis for reporting. In order to measure student achievement in relation to the national goals, ministers agreed to a program, called the National Assessment Program (NAP), to collect, analyse and report nationally comparable data on student achievement in literacy, numeracy, science, ICT and civics and citizenship.
Following the Adelaide Declaration, the NAP sample assessments started in 2003 with science literacy.
The Adelaide Declaration was superseded by the 2008 Melbourne declaration on educational goals for young Australians (Melbourne Declaration). The Melbourne Declaration, in contrast to the earlier declaration on schooling, has a broader frame and sets out educational goals for young Australians. These are:
Ministers agreed on eight actions to achieve these educational goals. One of these actions is to ‘promote world-class curriculum and assessment’.
The Melbourne Declaration states that:
assessment of student progress will be rigorous and comprehensive. It needs to reflect the curriculum, and draw on a combination of the professional judgement of teachers and testing, including national testing.
The Melbourne Declaration also states that the learning areas English and mathematics are fundamental in all years of schooling, placing emphasis on the literacy and numeracy skills assessed by NAPLAN tests.
The first NAPLAN tests took place in 2008 and were conducted by the then Ministerial Council for Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA, now Education Council). This was the first time all students in Australia in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 were assessed in literacy and numeracy using the same year level tests. The national tests, which replaced a raft of tests administered by Australian states and territories, improved the comparability of students’ results across states and territories.