Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Using NAPLAN Items to Develop Students' Thinking Skills and Build Confidence

Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Using NAPLAN Items to Develop Students' Thinking Skills and Build Confidence

Article excerpt

National testing programs provide challenges and opportunities for mathematics teachers. One challenge is to focus on the diverse learning needs of students while preparing them for national testing early in the school year. An opportunity arises if we use test items to assist students who have difficulty reading and interpreting mathematical text, to further develop students' thinking skills, and to analyse common errors and misconceptions, frequently presented as alternative solutions in multiple-choice items. One approach to "teaching to the test" is to use NAPLAN items as discussion starters so that students develop number sense, adopt new problem-solving strategies, and build confidence and resilience.

Background information

In Australia, the debate surrounding mathematics and numeracy achievement has been similar to that experienced elsewhere. There is a growing recognition of the need for greater proficiency and that early intervention provides the best chance of success for children at risk of failure. Until recently, each state and territory in Australia collected student achievement data for the federal government. Concern about the proportion of students not meeting the minimum national benchmark standards (Curriculum Corporation, 2000) has continued with large investments by governments to address the needs of students at risk.

To better monitor student achievement across Australia the National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was introduced in 2008. The same tests in literacy and numeracy are now administered throughout Australia to all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. In Years 7 and 9 students complete two 32-item test papers for numeracy, one without the use of a calculator. Testing early in the school year provides diagnostic information to teachers about their students' performance in mathematics topics common to all states and territories as outlined in the Statements of Learning for Mathematics (Curriculum Corporation, 2006). The results from the assessments are reported in several forms including individual student reports to parents, school and aggregate reports. For more information about NAPLAN see the website:

The school reports enable teachers to analyse the results for each year group to determine which items appear to be understood and which are problematic. In addition, school data can be compared to the Australian student data. The information is useful to assist in addressing common errors and misconceptions as well as to aid planning and programming of future learning.

Whether we approve of a national testing regime or not, this level of accountability to the federal government is in place for the foreseeable future with pressure on school principals and teachers to improve results. While the information may be useful after the results are released, teachers of Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are experiencing increased pressure early in the school year to prepare students for the test. Principals, school systems personnel and parents are scrutinising the results to determine whether schools and their teachers are "measuring up." They want students to be well prepared and to achieve above minimum standards.

Rather than abandon good pedagogical practices and have students individually practise released test items under timed conditions, NAPLAN provides an opportunity to use quality-teaching approaches for test preparation. In this paper, strategies are presented to assist reading and interpreting mathematical text, to promote thinking strategies and number sense, and to raise awareness of common errors and misconceptions. Examples from NAPLAN tests are used for illustrative purposes with reference to relevant research.

Reading and interpreting test items

Teachers may assume that incorrect answers are the result of errors in applying mathematical procedures or lack of understanding. However, many students experience difficulty reading and comprehending test items before they begin to apply mathematical skills and processes. …

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