How to improve your school's NAPLAN writing data

5 Steps To Improving Your School's NAPLAN Writing Data

Aug 11, 2023

The NAPLAN data is out and ‘paralysis-by-item-analysis’ has begun.

I remember the days of looking at item analysis spreadsheets with hundreds of columns wondering if the time spent a) creating the spreadsheet or b) analysing the spreadsheet, ever amounted to improved student learning.

Today’s blog is aimed at helping you cut through all the data columns so you can spend your precious time on things that will actually make a difference.

When it comes to looking at the NAPLAN writing data, my recommendation is to put the spreadsheets and head straight to the NAPLAN criteria report.

This report breaks down your school’s writing scores into each of the 9 criterion that make up the writing assessment. As a reminder, they are:


On this report, for each of the nine criterion you can see your school’s performance alongside the state’s averages:


Step 1: Pull out your admiring lens

When looking at the NAPLAN criteria report you need to remember to put on your admiring lens first. Don’t go searching for problems before you’ve searched for positives.

Look for strengths and consider what you can learn from these.

  • In which specific areas are you at or above the state’s averages?
  • In which area are you scoring close to top marks?
  • What are your overall strengths?

Now pause and consider why?

What in your school could be contributing to this success?

Perhaps more instructional time has been spent on a particular area and that’s showing up in the data? Maybe you’ve built teacher content knowledge in a specific area and that’s coming through? Perhaps you’ve increased the amount of time spent on teaching writing in general and that’s had an impact?

Pausing to consider the contributing factors to your success means you can:

  1. continue to do the things that are working and
  2. transfer these learnings to other areas. e.g. If using the PLC cycle to focus on vocabulary instruction showed up positively in your data, you could apply this same approach to improving your scores in another area.


Step 2: Celebrate your successes

In general, schools are terrible at celebrating success.

As trained problem finders, we sometimes forget to slow down and acknowledge progress. This is an essential element in effective change leadership though. Success begets success. Knowing that we’re making forward progress motivates us to make more of it. Whereas, focusing only on the next thing we need to improve can become tiring and demotivating.

 Pausing to celebrate the positives in your NAPLAN data is a critical step in building staff buy-in to future change efforts, so do not skip it!

How will you celebrate your school’s NAPLAN success?


Step 3: Consider areas for improvement

Once you’ve applied the admiring lens to your data, you can then start looking for potential areas for improvement.

  • In which specific area(s) are you below the state’s averages?
  • In which area(s) is your bell curve weighted heavily to the left?
  • Which area(s) present an opportunity for real growth (where is there a big gap between the potential score and your score?)

Now pause and consider why?

What in your school could be contributing to this?

Identify specific criterion you’d like to investigate further.


Step 4: Investigate

Let’s say your data shows your school has a left-leaning bell curve in the area of vocabulary. Rather than pointing fingers or declaring that ‘the vocab program didn’t work’ you need to investigate further. Here’s some potential investigation avenues:


  • How much time is spent on teaching writing in general? (Don’t make assumptions here! Many schools are shocked when they investigate the classroom realities of this).
  • How much time has been spent on teaching vocabulary specifically? (Look at unit plans, lessons plans, etc.).

Teaching focus

  • How much focus was placed on explicitly teaching vocabulary? (In the narrative unit, for example, which learning intentions were linked back to vocabulary instruction?)
  • Did vocabulary feature in your narrative’s assessment criteria? What was assessed in the unit?
  • What are the similarities and differences between how teachers teach vocabulary and how they teach a higher scoring criterion on the NAPLAN?

Teacher content knowledge

  • How confident are your teachers in understanding the NAPLAN vocabulary criteria?
  • How confident are they in knowing how to teach students about vocabulary in writing?
  • Can they highlight effective vocabulary in mentor texts? (i.e. do they know what this criteria looks like in strong writing?)
  • Has vocabulary featured in any PLC cycles?


  • What resources does your school provide to teachers to assist them in teaching vocabulary effectively? (e.g. mentor texts, teacher resource texts about vocab instruction, collaborative planning time to focus on vocab instruction, etc.)
  • Has vocabulary featured in the school’s PD planner? How often? (Remember: ‘one and done’ PDs are rarely effective in changing teacher practice).
  • How does vocabulary feature in your school’s documentation? (e.g. Is it mentioned in your curriculum documents?)


Step 5: Plan

Once you’ve conducted a thorough investigation (I’d suggest you spend at least the rest of the term gathering this information), then you’re ready to plan for your next steps.

Hot tip: The more time you spend in the ‘evaluating and diagnosing’ phase, the more effective your plan for improvement will be. (Read more about’ slow versus fast’ thinking in this post on effective literacy leadership).


Remember the silver bullet

In my experience, any plan for improvement needs to be focused on building teacher content knowledge first and foremost. This is the only silver bullet in educational improvement.

If your student data is low in the area of sentence structure for example, I’d recommend focusing on building your teachers’ content knowledge in this area.

What is sentence structure? What do kids need to know about it? What does it look like when it’s used effectively? How do you teach it? How do you assess it? What resources can help teachers understand it? What’s our school’s consistent approach to understanding and teaching it?

Focusing on building teacher content knowledge means planning for professional development opportunities for your staff. And, according to research, this PL should be an ongoing drip feed of learning, with built in time for trial and feedback.

(Click here to read my post on the importance of building teacher content knowledge).


NAPLAN and the 6+1 Writing Traits

As discussed in one of my previous posts, the NAPLAN marking criteria beautifully aligns to the 6+1 traits of writing assessment. That’s because they’re both focused on assessing the key ingredients in effective writing.

Here’s my breakdown of the alignment:


When you build your teachers’ knowledge in each of the 6+1 writing traits, you’re building their knowledge across all the NAPLAN writing criteria. And, as I discussed in a different post, you can’t teach something well if you don’t understand it yourself first.

This is what makes investing time and energy in building teacher content knowledge critical in any change initiative. Any programs or resources you purchase will not make a difference if they’re not accompanied by a strong investment in teacher knowledge.

What is your plan for building teacher content knowledge in the area of effective writing instruction?


There you have it: 5 steps to improving your school’s NAPLAN writing data.

Skip the spreadsheet analysis paralysis, head straight to the criteria report, find and celebrate your wins, investigate your areas for improvement and plan to build teacher content knowledge over time.


I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from your school’s wins in writing. What have you trialed and what is showing up positively in your school’s NAPLAN data?

Head over to the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook group to join in the conversation.


Want to plan some 6+1 traits learning for your school?

My Original Writing Traits Masterclass is focused purely on building teacher content knowledge in each of the 6 traits. (Note: the +1 is the Presentation trait and isn’t covered in the course as it’s not assessed on the NAPLAN).

The course is designed to be delivered in small chunks over a period of months, with time built in to allow teachers to trial the learning and reflect between modules.

If you’re interested in a quote for whole school access to this course for next year, email [email protected] with your school’s details.

Note: Whole school access to this course also includes ongoing change leadership mentoring from me. These monthly drop- in sessions on Zoom are designed to help ensure your school gets the absolute most out of their course access.

(Click here to learn more about whole school access to this course.)


Related Blog Posts:



Sign up to our mailing list

Ā Join our mailing list to receive the latest news, updates and resources from Oz Lit Teacher.Ā 
We'll even give you a copy of our mentor text list to say thanks for signing up.

Sign up now