As 1.3 million students across more than 9400 schools throughout the country undergo the tests, ACARA says with the new changes, schools and education authorities will receive preliminary school and student results from the assessments early in Term 2 – about a month after the test period ends on March 25 this year.

That’s eight weeks earlier than in 2023, a full school term earlier than 2022 and the earliest in the history of NAPLAN.

It means teachers will have more time to consider the results alongside their own assessments, and then use them to inform their teaching and learning programs in the current school year.

ACARA CEO Stephen Gniel says the quicker turnaround will benefit both children and their teachers.

“Getting the results to schools sooner is a key benefit of having moved the assessment from May to March last year, as well as delivering the tests fully online,” Gniel said in a statement.

“It will help support schools in understanding where their students have performed well and areas for improvement, as well shape teaching and learning programs."

Releasing test results in July in recent years, has meant that half the year of student learning is over, making it challenging for schools to expedite access to necessary learning programs that assist students immediately.

The earlier results and associated benefits to schools and students follow a national agreement from all Education Ministers to move the NAPLAN tests to Term 1 from 2023.

“Delivering on this commitment to provide earlier results is being realised thanks to the work of teachers and school leaders, as well as collaboration between all states and territories and the Commonwealth,” Gniel said.

NAPLAN testing has come under fire in recent years, with parents worrying about the wellbeing impacts it can have on their children.

Gniel, however, said students and parents should not be concerned and while NAPLAN is an important measure, with more than 4.4 million tests expected to be sat this year, its impact needs to be kept in perspective.

“NAPLAN is one assessment tool that we have in addition to a school’s own assessments and, most importantly, the teacher’s knowledge of their students,” he said.

“So, there’s no need for students to undertake extra practice for NAPLAN and they should not feel apprehensive about the assessment.”

NAPLAN assessments, he said, help governments, education authorities and schools see whether Australian children are reaching important literacy and numeracy goals, as well as allowing parents and carers to see how their child is progressing against national literacy and numeracy standards.

Students can also get an insight into where they are placed on their own individual learning journey.

One expert said NAPLAN’s move from May to March, as well as the shift from paper to digital, may hinder rather than assist schools and teachers with testing delivery.

Professor Karen Murcia from Curtin University said schools with already stretched budgets and staffing cohorts may struggle to accommodate NAPLAN testing as required.

She said moving the test toward the end of the year could yield more accurate, relevant results for both teachers and students.

“Amongst educators, there is strong scepticism and criticism towards the NAPLAN testing system,” Murcia told MCERA.

“Many voices are emphasising the inefficacy of preparing students for the test, the time and resource allocation involved in schools, and the lack of meaningful outcomes it provides to children,” she said.

“Testing in March and going digital, may not be the promised panacea.”

Murcia argued that for the data to be useful and to inform teaching, moving the testing to the end of the year possibly could provide an insight into what children achieved in that school year.

“Informed by the data, teachers would then be able to address children’s learning needs and knowledge gaps when planning at the start of the following school year,” she said.

Murcia said there are also many challenges faced by schools in planning and conducting digital NAPLAN testing, especially those with limited resources and children with low digital capabilities.

“Issues such as access to technology, digital literacy skills, and the time-consuming nature of online testing are challenging schools and taking time away from quality learning for the children who need it most,” she said.

Meanwhile, Monash University research from late last year found that NAPLAN is so “insidiously embedded” into Australian schooling that many educators no longer question – or even realise – the profound impact the test is wielding on their daily practice, while another University of Melbourne study revealed that a majority of students dislike the examinations and are unsure of its purpose, with many reporting feelings of stress.

“(NAPLAN) is really informing the way that we imagine possibilities for teaching and curriculum – and that is so narrow, and it’s so limiting. And we can do a lot better,” Monash University researcher Dr Stephanie Wescott told EducationHQ in November.

Other critics say, beyond its failings in regard to academic achievement, where an increased reliance on NAPLAN results to inform education policy and practice has coincided with a decline in the relative performance of Australia on global league tables like PISA, NAPLAN has also had a series of what they call ‘highly detrimental unintended consequences’.

A national study of more than 8000 teachers (albeit ten years ago) revealed a narrowing of teaching strategies and of the curriculum, negative impacts on student health and wellbeing, negative impacts on staff morale, negative impacts on school reputation, and on schools' capacity to attract and retain students and staff.

Another 2019 survey of 2400 students found that teachers and school leaders are impacted by associated NAPLAN performance pressures, which contribute to excessive workload, stress and ill-health, while many noted that this was contributing to them considering leaving the profession.

ACARA has revealed that more than 2500 different test questions have been set, tested and checked for this year’s assessments, with preliminary results to be provided to schools in all domains except writing, which takes longer to mark.

Schools will receive their full results, including writing, from June 2024, after which parents and carers receive their child’s Individual Student Report at the start of Term 3.

ACARA is then expecting to publish the National Results in August 2024.

For more information about NAPLAN, click here.