Isabella Gillespie, 12, left and Olivia Wade, 10. Photo: Graham Tidy
Canberra students have always tested well in the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy but in 2013, for the first time since the program started in 2008, the ACT topped all 20 testing measures.
NAPLAN tests students across five areas of literacy and numeracy in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. About 17,800 ACT students participated in the tests in May, leading to the national report released on Friday.
The ACT continues to excel in reading and has been the highest performing jurisdiction in Australia every year since 2008, and since 2009 has ranked first or equal first for grammar and punctuation and numeracy.
"Reaching a point of achieving a lead or equal lead in 20 out of 20 [areas] is something to celebrate, and well done to all the fabulous quality teachers we have in the ACT," ACT Education and Training Minister Joy Burch said.
''But that's not to say that our system will rest on its laurels. There is more work to do; one of the areas that we have improved on is spelling, and that is because we've put concerted effort into spelling across our government schools."
For students in years 5 and 9 in the capital, scores in reading and grammar and punctuation are well above the national mean score.
Ninety-seven per cent of year 5 students performed at or above the national minimum standard in reading, more than 2 per cent higher than previous years, and 96 per cent of year 9 students achieved at or above the national minimum standard.
The report provides a breakdown of results including for gender, language background other than English (LBOTE) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status.
Reading and numeracy results of ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were higher than in other areas across Australia, but Ms Burch said there was room for improvement. "We've continued to improve effort in our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and we're still above the national average - there's still a gap … but we're certainly leading the nation in that area," she said.
LBOTE students in the ACT generally achieved results consistent with equivalent national results, but in year 7, their spelling results were higher than mean scores for other students.
Tracy Stewart, a director within the Education and Training Directorate, said that was not unusual. "What we tend to find is students from non-English speaking backgrounds, as they move through school and their command of English improves, they do tend to have quite good academic results," she said.
"So by the time they get to years 7 and 9, as a generalisation, [they] tend to perform quite well in testing programs."
The ACT's nation-topping results have not been controlled for socio-economic status of individuals or schools, although Ms Stewart said that is possible in the future as they seek to improve results.
At Mawson Primary School, acting principal Rohan Evans said the NAPLAN results were a useful planning tool, identifying areas for improvement as well as allowing the school to set its own targets.
The school has more than 30 per cent of students from non-English speaking backgrounds, but it also teaches in Mandarin for two days a week, adding an extra challenge for students and teachers.
"The teachers work with the Australian curriculum, and we have close conversations between the bilingual teachers and the English teachers so the content is covered across all five days," Mr Evans said.
"For example, for numeracy … they may be able to teach that in Mandarin."
The 2013 NAPLAN National Report can be found at www.nap.edu.au