At least 87 per cent of Indigenous students in year 9 in NSW will need to resit a reading, writing or numeracy test to be eligible for their HSC, compared with 59 per cent of non-Indigenous students, prompting concerns that the government’s new minimum literacy and numeracy standards will further widen the year 12 completion gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
Year 9 students who fail to get a band 8 or above in the reading, writing and numeracy NAPLAN tests are now required to resit online tests over the next eight years in order to be eligible for the HSC, under a controversial new policy that came into affect this year.
Only 12.7 per cent of Aboriginal year 9 students got a band 8 or above in this year’s NAPLAN writing test, compared with 40.6 per cent of non-Indigenous students, according to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s full results report, released on Wednesday.
About 21.1 per cent of Aboriginal students reached the band 8 benchmark in the numeracy test, compared with 59.1 per cent of non-Indigenous students, and 21.8 per cent of Aboriginal students got a band 8 or above in reading, compared with 56 per cent of non-Indigenous students.
The results from this year’s NAPLAN tests, which were held from May 9-11, also showed that Indigenous year 9 students in NSW had lower rates of participation than non-Indigenous students.
About 83 per cent of Indigenous students participated in the reading assessment and 82.1 per cent participated in writing, compared with 96 per cent and 95.5 per cent of non-Indigenous students respectively.
President of the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, Cindy Berwick, said the new policy “disproportionately affects Aboriginal kids”.
“They won’t get an HSC,” Ms Berwick said.
“We’re not disputing that you need a minimum benchmark but the issue is that systemically, there’s no support for that. There’s an issue around school leadership and how they engage Aboriginal students, especially in literacy.
“Over the years, we’ve fought very hard to get access and opportunities, and now it’s slowly being eroded again.”
Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research at the University of Sydney, Jakelin Troy, said the nature of standardised tests, such as NAPLAN favours some groups.
“Let’s not disadvantage our Aboriginal students because they don’t match a skillset that comes from a non-Indigenous perspective,” Professor Troy said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it reduced the graduation rate by more than 25 per cent.
“[The new policy] makes the HSC an elitist qualification. It’s pretty obvious that the people who are going to get the marks are the people who are socialised into performing well in that kind of testing.”
Senior lecturer in public policy and education at the University of Western Australia, Glenn Savage, said that while the minimum standards will “help make year 12 standards more rigorous and high quality”, they are unlikely to improve teaching.
“Having the [NAPLAN and online test] requirement linked to year 12 doesn’t help policymakers or teachers or school leaders make better-informed decisions because we already know that young people from Indigenous or low socio-economic backgrounds are underperforming,” Dr Savage said.
“An interesting question needs to be asked about why it is that band 8 is being used when band 6 is the national minimum standard according to ACARA.
“I think the policy has multiple aims beyond those that are stated.”
The latest NAPLAN results show that a number of other disadvantaged groups have also reached the band 8 standard at far lower rates.
About 57.4 per cent of year 9 students in major cities got a band 8 or above in reading. This fell to 47.2 per cent of students in inner-regional areas, 36.7 per cent of students in outer-regional areas, and 22.1 per cent in remote areas.