Dissecting NAPLAN: the good, the bad, and the alternatives

Teacher assisting girls with tablets

Published: February 1st, 2022

As we kick off the 2022 school year, one topic remains controversial in education organisations across the nation: NAPLAN.

For those few unaware, NAPLAN (the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) is a country-wide standardised test that measures the reading, writing, language and numeracy skills of students in years three, five, seven and nine.

NAPLAN tests can create anxiety amongst Australian students, teachers, and administrators alike, increasing workload of time-constrained teachers, and adding pressure to reach attainment goals for schools and individuals.

Introduced in 2008, NAPLAN was cancelled just once in 2020 amongst school closures and lockdowns as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. This reignited calls to end the test altogether among teachers and parents.

As a provider of a succinct snapshot of the levels of Australian students across schools, are there any viable alternatives to this divisive test? And could the insight it provides go deeper? Let’s examine:

The benefits of NAPLAN

NAPLAN results are an easy way for parents and teachers to see where students sit in terms of national averages. This can then prompt valuable communication opportunities between schools and families, to give support to students who may need additional learning opportunities.

Results also provide school systems and Governments with useful data that can lead to change for the better. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) states, “The data and information we gain from NAPLAN drives ongoing improvement at school, state and national levels.”

Drawbacks to NAPLAN

NAPLAN focuses its testing more on fundamental literacy and numeracy skills, rather than higher-order thinking or creativity. This means some students can be overlooked in the race for attainment.

It has also been shown that NAPLAN may influence the way that curriculum subjects are taught, to maximise results across the board. This can limit the scope for imaginative teaching methods which may weaken job satisfaction levels.

44% of educators answered in a 2013 survey they felt an increase in stress and pressure across the entire school community: students, parents and teachers alike. And in the AEU’s 2021 State of our Schools survey of public-school staff:

  • 73% of principals say that NAPLAN increases teacher workloads.
  • 86% of principals say that NAPLAN contributes to students’ stress and anxiety.
  • 59% of principals say that NAPLAN makes no difference to student outcomes.
  • 62% of teachers say that NAPLAN is an ineffective diagnostic tool for teachers.


With the rise in communications technology in schools over the last few years, alternatives to standardised tests are a more viable option than ever before. Having interconnected edtech within the classroom can provide a host of valuable data that previously would have been too time-consuming for teachers to collect and store.

Take the ActivPanel, for example. With its capabilities to poll students in-class, you can get a real time snapshot of individual divergence within a year group, which you can then share with parents.

Emerging methods of assessment such as Computerised Adaptive Tests use machine learning to customise difficulty-levels to suit the ability of the examinee as they complete a test. Not only does this remove marking pressure from time-constrained teachers (as it can all be done digitally), but also gives a larger variation in results, meaning more accurate results. It also means that if a student struggles in one learning area, they have a chance to showcase their skills in other areas.

Game-based assessments are another developing alternative, often designed to get at higher-order thinking skills that traditional tests don’t or can’t, such as systems of thinking or decision-making responses.

We get closer every year to being able to eschew with standardised tests such as NAPLAN. With a host of alternatives out there to watch, powered by tech, we’re excited to see what the future has in store for assessments.

If you’d like to read more about the future of assessment, check out our blog: Are final exams necessary in the modern classroom?