Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Raising the Bar: Setting an Agenda for Writing Improvement in the Middle Years

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Raising the Bar: Setting an Agenda for Writing Improvement in the Middle Years

Article excerpt


In spite of a decade of investment by the Australian Government to improve the scholastic achievement of young Australians, recent evidence reports declining growth in literacy achievement across the middle years. Progressively, the gaps between those students 'who perform highly and those who perform poorly on standardised measures of literacy increase rather than decrease at this point of schooling' (Freebody, Morgan, Comber, & Nixon, 2014, p. 9). Globally, results from the 2016 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study of 15-year-old school students' scholastic performance on mathematics, science and reading, shows that Australia continues to fall behind other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations in all three areas (Marginson, Tytler, Freeman, & Roberts, 2013; Prinsley & Johnston, 2015).

In positioning Australia as one of the world's high-performing school systems (Barber & Mourshed, 2007), the Australian Government has committed to restore the focus on, and to increase student uptake of, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in the nation's primary and secondary schools. A recent measure emanating from the National STEM Strategy (Australian Government Department of Education and Training, 2015) targets the development of the National Literacy Progression (F-10) by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). At a state level, the New South Wales (NSW) Government has set a target for the improved literacy and numeracy performance of all students by increasing the proportion of NSW students in the top two NAPLAN bands for reading and numeracy by 8% by 2019.

Consistent with international benchmark data, the National Assessment Program--Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) data on a national level show that from 2015 to 2016 there has been 'no significant change in literacy and numeracy results, with results plateauing' (ACARA, 2015, 2016a). The 2016 NAPLAN data show that there have been some significant gains in some domains in each state and territory, with Western Australia and Queensland standing out more than others. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT), NSW and Victoria continue to have the highest mean achievement across the NAPLAN domains in Years 3, 5 and 7. However, 2016 NAPLAN data show that top performing students in these states and the ACT are making little improvement in all domains. The data also show that since 2008 there have been some significant cumulative gains in some domains and year levels for Indigenous students, including reading (Years 3 and 5), numeracy (Year 5), spelling (Year 3), grammar and punctuation (Years 3, 5 and 7). Nevertheless, writing outcomes for Indigenous students have not improved.

The case study reported in this article is interested in the domain of writing. It features an ACT high school that incurred declining growth in Year 9 writing from 2011 to 2016. The article describes the school's efforts to engender a whole school approach to writing and to upskill teachers.

Declining growth in writing

Wyatt-Smith and Jackson (2016) report 'accelerating negative change' (p. 233) based on NAPLAN writing data, revealing that growing numbers of students are achieving below the national minimum standard in writing. An examination of recent national benchmark data suggests that younger Australian adolescents are outperforming older adolescents in the domain of writing.

The 2015 NAPLAN writing data reveal a significant increase in the percentage of students performing at or above the national minimum standard at Year 7. Conversely, Year 9 writing results have significantly decreased since 2011 (the year from which results can be compared for this domain). The 2016 NAPLAN writing data confirm a continuing increase in the number of adolescent students achieving below the national minimum standard in the domain of writing. …

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