The shocking number of kids who can’t write

ONE in five Year 9 students in NSW have failed this year's NAPLAN writing test, continuing an alarming slide in literacy skills that has experts calling for urgent reforms in the classroom.

A similar number of students only met the minimum writing standards, meaning about 40 per cent of Year 9 classmates across the state require help putting a sentence together.

Failing to meet the minimum standard in writing means students "will have difficulty" in the classroom, according to the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority.

 

This year’s NAPLAN has revealed one in five students failed the writing test. Picture: Supplied
This year’s NAPLAN has revealed one in five students failed the writing test. Picture: Supplied

This year 18.7 per cent of Year 9s were in this category, putting the state behind Western Australia, Victoria and the ACT.

NSW's performance has been getting worse since 2011, when 15.1 per cent failed, and last year, when 16.3 per cent didn't reach the standard.

But it is a national problem, with every state's writing skills declining since 2011. And it isn't just limited to Year 9, with writing results in Years 5 and 7 below those observed in the base year.

A snapshot of where Year 9 students are in literacy skills.
A snapshot of where Year 9 students are in literacy skills.

According to ACARA, students who don't meet the minimum standard may need "intervention and support" and are at risk of being unable to progress satisfactorily at school. It notes students who perform at the national minimum standard - in NSW this was 22 per cent - may also require additional assistance.

However, while writing skills deteriorated, students in NSW improved or maintained their performance in other areas such as reading and numeracy.

In NAPLAN writing tests, students are given a picture or a phrase and must write either a "persuasive or narrative" text in 40 minutes. Students may be asked to make up a story using their imagination or write about a subject of debate. They are marked against ten criteria including text structure, paragraphing, vocabulary, punctuation, ideas, spelling and sentence structure.

The Grattan Institute's education program director Peter Goss said schools should focus explicitly on teaching students how to write.

UTS professor of education and culture Rosemary Johnston said kids need more practice in writing. Picture: Adam Yip
UTS professor of education and culture Rosemary Johnston said kids need more practice in writing. Picture: Adam Yip

"The National Minimum Standard is a baseline that all students should be expected to meet but it is set really very low," he said.

"Australia needs to set its sights higher and work systematically on writing as a core foundation."

UTS professor of education and culture Rosemary Johnston said the written word could be lost unless children did more practice. "I think it is purely and simply practice," Prof Johnston said.

"I don't think it matters if it is handwriting or written on a computer, we need children to read more and to write more, otherwise it is a skill that is going to be lost."

Education Minister Rob Stokes said NSW performed above the national average.



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