However, while the latest in a series of NAPLAN reviews largely gets the diagnosis right on current issues, it gets the treatment wrong.

In effect, this review – initiated by education ministers of the eastern states – proposes modifying NAPLAN and renaming it as the Australian National Standardised Assessment (ANSA). The new tests would cover maths more narrowly, literacy more broadly, and introduce a new creative and critical thinking assessment.

Whatever the misgivings about NAPLAN, there’s undeniably a need for consistent and objective testing and for all schools and students to participate – as the review affirms.

Too often, NAPLAN is scapegoated rather than confronting genuine – and often difficult – education system improvement.

NAPLAN plays a critical role tracking student performance along a common scale. And it has a role in helping diagnose students’ learning needs and as a professional reference. That doesn’t displace use of formative assessment and classroom observation – it can and should all work in concert.

Parents value the opportunity to see where their child sits compared to peers and appreciate having the MySchool website to see how their school is going compared to others. There’s a role for utilising these resources for more constructive and frank discussions within school and with parents – including helping everyone understand what is and is not being measured.

The ongoing divisive debate over keeping or scrapping NAPLAN has diverted attention from making it work better. There are genuine opportunities to upgrade NAPLAN – particularly in terms of timing (time of school year and grades to test) and content (what to test and how). However, the review’s recommendations won’t resolve the heart of the issues.

Getting the timing of the tests right has great potential to help. Testing students in grades 3, 5, 7, and 9 doesn’t provide the most practical information on students’ capabilities. And by the time results become available to school – exacerbated by the outdated paper-based mode – it’s not always possible to make adjustments to best meet students’ needs.

The review’s plan to address this is for students to sit the tests near the start of the school year. That would be a mistake because it will basically test how much was forgotten over the summer holidays, rather than how much has been learned.

Instead, the tests could be held towards the end of the year – better aligned with the national curriculum and more closely tracking years of learning. That would provide a clearer picture of incoming students’ capabilities with each year’s intake and better supporting remedial efforts.

To ensure NAPLAN better matches with students’ and schools’ key transition points, an alternative option could be for tests at the end of Years 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. That would provide markers of achievement as they finish primary schooling years (and enter secondary school), enter senior secondary, or leave school.

In terms of content, the review raises many suggestions without providing a compelling rationale or evidence – particularly when it comes to creative and critical thinking assessments. It does, however, rightly identify deficiencies with the current writing assessment.

Unfortunately, our students are suffering from poorer literacy than ever – many never receiving the support they need in order to be successful in work or further study. This is reflected by the extraordinarily low benchmarks set in the tests’ national minimum standards, compared to those adopted in higher performing education systems.

Partly to blame has been excessive focus on students’ ability to write in narrowly defined ways – specific genres and text structures –which hasn’t proven effective in developing the essentials for mastery of the English language.

Yet the review’s proposed fix is to add more text types and broaden their use in testing, with “imaginative, persuasive and informative genres” for different year levels. It also seems unnecessarily to suggest halting participation in tests during a period of “experimental redevelopment” and to temporarily restrict testing to a sample of students.

To successfully address the weaknesses in writing, we need commitment to higher benchmarks, a rejection of evidence-free literacy fads, and better targeting of the core concepts needed to allow students to be clearer communicators with their writing.

Rather than replace or rebadge NAPLAN, constructively upgrading it is key to it becoming a more effective resource for students, educators, and parents.

Making the transition to online assessment must be a priority for policymakers – reducing marking delays and surely improving the quality of testing.

There’s been substantial commitment made in recent years toward a national curriculum, national assessment, and a tool for tracking performance.

Seeing that these work better in advancing student outcomes has clear benefits to all who have a stake in Australia’s educational performance.