top of page

The Impacts of NAPLAN: A Critical Look at its Effects on Australian Education

The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is a familiar fixture in Australian schools, generating data and rankings that are often used to assess educational progress. However, understanding the true impact of NAPLAN requires a deeper look beyond the numbers. This article delves into the various effects of NAPLAN, examining both its benefits and drawbacks on curriculum, pedagogy, data provision, inclusivity, and systemic practices. By critically analysing these impacts, we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of NAPLAN's role in shaping Australian education.

Students sitting a standardised exam.

The Assumed Benefits of NAPLAN

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) claims that standardised testing through the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) brings several benefits to stakeholders:

  1. Provides data and information to schools: NAPLAN data is intended to help schools identify strengths and weaknesses in student performance, allowing them to target improvements.

  2. Informs policy makers: Policy makers can use NAPLAN data to assess the effectiveness of their educational policies, including those aimed at supporting disadvantaged groups like Indigenous students.

  3. Guides resource allocation: NAPLAN data can inform decisions about resource allocation, ensuring resources are directed towards areas with the greatest need.

  4. Promotes accountability: NAPLAN holds schools and teachers accountable for student performance, potentially driving improvement.

While these assumed benefits sound promising, reported impacts of NAPLAN raise questions about its effectiveness and suitability for testing Australian students.

The Reported Impacts of NAPLAN on Curriculum and Data Provision

Impact on Curriculum and Pedagogy

Several studies have documented the negative impact of NAPLAN on curriculum and pedagogy. Here are some key findings:

  • Emphasis on test items: Due to the high-stakes nature of NAPLAN, teachers tend to focus on test items rather than the broader content they represent. This leads to "teaching to the test" and neglecting important aspects of the curriculum (Martin, 2015; Ragusa & Bousfield, 2017).

  • Narrowing of curriculum: Teachers report spending valuable instructional time preparing students for NAPLAN, resulting in a narrowing of the curriculum and less time for other essential learning areas.

  • Return to didactic teaching: NAPLAN encourages a return to teacher-centered pedagogies that prioritise memorisation and rote learning over critical thinking and creativity (Thompson & Harbaugh, 2013).

  • Overemphasis on performance: The focus on NAPLAN scores shifts attention from student development and meaningful learning to achieving high scores for accountability purposes (Martin, 2015; Cormack & Comber, 2013).

NAPLAN as a Data Provision Mechanism

While NAPLAN provides data on student performance, its usefulness for enhancing student development is questionable. Here are some concerns:

  • High-stakes accountability: NAPLAN data is used for high-stakes accountability purposes, holding schools and teachers responsible for student performance. This can lead to pressure to manipulate data and prioritise test scores over deeper learning (Lingard & Sellar, 2013; Ragusa & Bousfield, 2017).

  • Gaming the system: Schools may engage in "gaming" practices, such as focusing solely on areas heavily tested on NAPLAN, to improve their data and rankings.

  • Limited diagnostic value: NAPLAN data is not suitable for providing meaningful and personalized feedback to support individual student learning (Ragusa & Bousfield, 2017).

  • Misuse of data: NAPLAN data is often used to satisfy accountability expectations rather than inform effective teaching and learning practices.

  • Overemphasis on data: The reliance on quantitative test scores overlooks the complex factors that influence student learning (Hattie, 2005).

Some research suggests that NAPLAN's negative impacts on curriculum, pedagogy, and data provision raise serious concerns about its effectiveness as a tool for improving education in Australia.

The Systemic Effects of NAPLAN and its Impact on Inclusivity

Widening the Gap between Socio-Economic Groups

The publication of NAPLAN data on MySchool has resulted in unintended consequences. While intended to encourage transparency and accountability, it has led to the emergence of "residualised" schools, further widening the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged communities (Martin, 2015; Mills, 2015). This phenomenon highlights the limitations of standardized testing in addressing the complex issues facing disadvantaged students, including Indigenous students (Schwab, 2012).

Symbolic Violence against Minorities and Indigenous Students

NAPLAN's reliance on Standard Australian English as the primary language of assessment disadvantages Indigenous students and other linguistic minorities (Macqueen et al., 2019). This creates a situation of "symbolic violence," where cultural norms and languages are implicitly devalued (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977; Croizet et al., 2017). Furthermore, the narrow focus on "teaching to the test" to improve NAPLAN performance can detract from effective literacy strategies for diverse learners, such as "teaching literacy through content" (Cross, 2019).

Failure to Cater for Diverse Student Needs

Standardised tests like NAPLAN fail to acknowledge the diverse needs and learning abilities of students (Cormack & Comber, 2013). This often leads to the deficit labeling of students who do not conform to standardised norms, focusing on their weaknesses rather than their strengths. Additionally, NAPLAN test days can be disruptive and anxiety-inducing for students with additional learning needs or disabilities, further marginalising them and exacerbating their difficulties (Mayes & Howell, 2018). This can be particularly problematic for students on the Autism Spectrum who struggle with changes in routine and environment.

These findings raise serious concerns about NAPLAN's impact on inclusivity and its ability to assess the learning progress of all students fairly and accurately.

An anxious student sitting a standardised test

Conclusion: Rethinking NAPLAN in Light of its Negative Impacts

This article has analysed the reported impacts of NAPLAN across four key themes: its impact on curriculum and pedagogy, its function as a data provision mechanism, its systemic effects, and its challenges to inclusivity. The overwhelming consensus in the literature suggests that NAPLAN's negative impacts outweigh its potential benefits.

While the extent to which NAPLAN promotes "teaching to the test" and undermines higher-order thinking skills requires further investigation, the evidence presented by Thompson and Harbaugh (2013) underscores a potential threat to crucial learning outcomes. Additionally, the misuse of NAPLAN data for high-stakes accountability purposes, as opposed to supporting student development, raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of the current system.

The systemic effects of NAPLAN, particularly its contribution to the widening gap between advantaged and disadvantaged communities through the MySchool website and the perpetuation of "symbolic violence" against minority groups, highlight the need for a more equitable approach to assessment. Similarly, the failure of NAPLAN to cater to diverse student needs, including EAL/D learners and students with disabilities, further underscores the limitations of standardised testing.

In conclusion, the current implementation of NAPLAN falls short of its intended goals. A comprehensive overhaul is necessary to address the identified negative impacts and promote positive outcomes for all students. This may involve:

  • Shifting the focus from performance to student development: NAPLAN should be redesigned to provide diagnostic information for teachers to inform effective teaching strategies and support individual student progress, rather than serving as a high-stakes accountability tool.

  • Promoting diverse pedagogies: Curriculum and assessment frameworks should encourage teaching practices that cater to different learning styles and promote creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

  • Addressing systemic inequities: Measures should be implemented to mitigate the negative impacts of NAPLAN on disadvantaged communities. This may include providing additional resources and support for schools in low-income areas and developing culturally inclusive assessment practices.

  • Ensuring inclusivity: NAPLAN should be adapted to cater to the needs of all students, including those with disabilities and EAL/D learners. This may involve providing appropriate accommodations and developing alternative assessment methods.

By addressing the shortcomings of NAPLAN and prioritising student development over standardised test scores, we can create a more equitable and effective education system that benefits all learners.


Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2016). Why NAP? Retrieved from

Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, JC. (1977). Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London, England: Sage. 

Cormack, P. & Comber, B. (2013). High-stakes literacy tests and local effects in a rural school. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 36(2), 78-89.

Croizet, JC., Goudeau, S., Marot, M., & Millet, M. (2017). How do educational contexts contribute to the social class achievement gap: documenting symbolic violence from a social psychological point of view. Current Opinion in Psychology, 18, 105-110.

Cross, R. (2019). An Holistic Approach for Supporting Written Literacy Skills for EAL/D Learners. In R. Henderson (Ed.), Teaching Literacies: Pedagogies and Diversity (pp. 280- 307). Docklands, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Hattie, J. T. H. (2005). What is the nature of evidence that makes a difference to learning? In 2005 - Using data to support learning (Vol. 7, pp. 11–21). ACER. Retrieved from

Koretz, D. (2000). Limitations in the use of achievement tests as measures of educators’ productivity. The Journal of Human Resources, 4, 753–777. Retrieved from achievement-tests-as- measures-of-educators-productivity.pdf

Lingard, B. & Sellar, S. (2013). ‘Catalyst data’: perverse systemic effects of audit and accountability in Australian schooling. Journal of Education Policy, 28(5), 634-656.

Macqueen, S., Knoch, U., Wigglesworth, G., Nordlinger, R., Singer, R., McNamara, T., & Brickle, R. (2019). The impact of national standardized literacy and numeracy testing on children and teaching staff in remote Australian Indigenous communities. Language Testing, 36(2), 265-287.

Martin, A.J. (2015). Are These Testing Times, or Is It a Time to Test? Considering the Place of Tests in Students’ Academic Development. In Proctor, H., Brownlee, P., Freebody, P. (eds.), Controversies in Education. (Policy Implications of Research in Education, Vol 3). Switzerland: Springer International.

Mayes, E., & Howell, A. (2018). The (hidden) injuries of NAPLAN: two standardised test events and the making of ‘at risk’ student subjects. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 22(10), 1108-1123.

Mills, C. (2015). Implications of the ‘My School’ Website for Disadvantaged Communities: A Bourdieuian Analysis. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47(2), 146-158.

Ragusa, A. T., & Bousfield, K. (2017). ‘It’s not the test, it’s how it’s used!’ Critical analysis of public response to NAPLAN and MySchool Senate Inquiry. British Journal of Sociology  of Education, 38(3), 265-286.

Schwab, RG. (2012). Indigenous early school leavers: failure, risk and high-stakes testing. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 1, 3-18.

Thompson, G., & Harbaugh, A. G. (2013). A Preliminary Analysis of Teacher Perceptions of the Effects of NAPLAN on Pedagogy and Curriculum. Australian Educational Researcher, 40(3), 299-314.

173 views0 comments


bottom of page