Parents, educators, and policymakers will be relieved by new NAPLAN results showing NSW students are achieving more or less the same as they did pre-pandemic. But it would be wrong to conclude too early all is rosy on the education front.
Since schools first closed last year, experts have warned of possible learning losses — ranging from mild to significant effects.
As parents, teachers, and students know all too well, learning from home can be a challenging and frustrating experience. And for students already behind their peers, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, home-based learning has posed additional obstacles.
At the height of 2020 school closures, CIS research estimated disadvantaged students faced the risk of some learning loss — about 1-2 weeks’ worth of slower progress — but that it would be within reach for schools to catch up.
Late last year, NAPLAN check-in assessments — intended to give an early look into possible impact of school closures — were more pessimistic. It suggested NSW students basically made no progress while schools were closed. Overseas research has also given cause for concern, with pupils in other countries well behind previous years’ students.
Against that backdrop, it’s welcome the worst has been avoided here. But that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. The spectre of possible learning loss still looms.
A closer look at results later this year will be telling. Tracking the progress of particular schools and groups of disadvantaged students will paint a clearer picture of who is faring better and worse. Undoubtedly — as many parents are seeing — there will be some students slipping through the cracks.
And it could be next year’s NAPLAN results that show the full effects. More students are learning from home this year, and for longer. If learning loss is going to be recorded en masse, it will be in next year’s results.
In NSW, some improvement for primary school students has been notched over the past decade, but few gains have been recorded for high school years. More than one in 10 year 9 students still don’t meet the national minimum standard in reading — meaning they require more targeted intervention.
Policymakers must welcome this week’s NAPLAN results, but remain vigilant that the news may get worse before it gets better.