NAPLAN results are being used to assess students for entry into selective streams at public high schools in Wollongong, in a step that goes well beyond the reason parents are told NAPLAN exists.
The NAPLAN program of testing was introduced in 2008 to assess how well students were learning in literacy and numeracy.
But the testing program has been controversial, with some parents and teachers groups concerned it increased pressure on students, while diverting learning time towards "teaching the test".
Now it is clear the results are being used for competitive entry programs into certain high schools - with even the Year 3 NAPLAN results requires at at least one interstate school.
This may surprise parents who had thought their child's performance in NAPLAN would not have an impact on them personally.
It also means the work towards applying for selective streams starts as early as Term 2 of Year 5, when NAPLAN tests are held - so pressure on children to perform for high school entry may be starting as early as age 10.
In the Illawarra, Year 5 NAPLAN results are required to apply for the selective stream of Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts, as well as the "enrichment" classes offered at some public high schools including Woonona and Bulli high schools.
All Catholic secondary schools in the Wollonogng Diocese ask for the most recent NAPLAN results when applying for a place. In Wollongong, Edmund Rice College specifically requires NAPLAN results for its enrichment class application.
The NAPLAN results are not the only factor considered for applicants. Bulli and Woonona high schools also use a written test, as well as other factors, along with NAPLAN for enrichment class entry.
Wollongong High has an audition as its leading assessment factor for the selective performing arts stream, but NAPLAN is also included.
The Mercury has confirmed the use of NAPLAN tests for "enrichment" or "gifted and talented" classes occurs statewide, with high schools including Newcastle, Tempe and Randwick Boys High, requiring Year 5 NAPLAN results for assessment.
All information on the National Assessment Program website refers to the NAPLAN testing simply being to provide information for parents and benchmarks to assess education outcomes.
There is no mention of NAPLAN results being used for selective schools or other school admission, or counting in any way against a student's academic record.
Other high schools including Corrimal and Warilla in the Illawarra, and Castle Hill in Sydney, offer similar enrichment-type classes - but do not require NAPLAN results for entry.
And others, including South Sydney, have an option to include NAPLAN results, but it is not compulsory.
Some non-government schools, including Mt Keira's Catholic college Edmund Rice, also use the NAPLAN results for their enrichment streams.
Interstate, NAPLAN results are also being used in some high schools application processes.
For its academically selective entry, Brisbane State High School requires Year 3 and Year 5 NAPLAN results for its applicants - as well as sitting a test.
Academically selective high schools such as Wollongong's Smiths Hill, and Merewether in Newcastle, base entry only on the statewide selective high schools test.
In an explainer poster on its website, ACARA makes no mention of student results being needed for later school entry applications.
"NAPLAN is about driving improvement in our schools," it says.
"Valuable data are used for forward planning, allocating support and resources and tracking the progress and achievements of individual students, as well as an entire group of students, over the course of their educational journey."
It says NAPLAN can be used by parents and children to "see how well the student is going compared to students in their school and nationally", and to "celebrate achievements and Identify any areas for improvement; follow up discussion with teachers (sic)".
Determining who gets in to a particular school, or what stream they should be in, is not mentioned.
Test 'used as a guide': ACARA
NAPLAN assessments are not designed to be a school admission test.
But a spokesperson for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which administers NAPLAN, said results may however be useful for informing new schools of students needs.
"Some schools may ask for NAPLAN reports, in addition to school reports, as part of their admissions process."
The spokesperson pointed to a fact sheet on ACARA's website page to stress that NAPLAN results provide important information about literacy and numeracy skills that children learn through their regular school curriculum.
"The results complement the assessments your child does at school. They provide you and your child's teachers with an understanding of your child's achievement and progress at the time of the assessments. The information can be used to support your child to reach their full potential."
The Mercury also asked the NSW Department of Education whether it thought it was appropriate for the results to be used to assess students for entry into selective streams at public high schools.
The department were also asked why students and parents are not told that their NAPLAN results may be used in this personally identified way later, in a manner that might have an impact on their future education.
"NAPLAN testing, and the resultant student reports, is not intended for the purpose of school enrolment applications," a spokesperson said.
"Selective and specialist high schools (academic, performing arts, and sports) determine enrolment primarily on factors such as their selective test results, overall school reports, audition performance, sporting ability......and may ask for a student's NAPLAN results as a supplementary document in the application process to facilitate appropriate class placement.
"Parents are encouraged to have discussions with schools regarding their specific application needs and process."
Expert welcomes NAPLAN review
Another year, another NAPLAN controversy.
But despite parents learning the hard way that NAPLAN results are being used to assess students for entry into selective streams at public high schools in Wollongong, the test is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
And come Tuesday, May 14 more than a million year 3 and 5 students around the country will sit for the controversial test.
Dr Jessica Mantei from the School of Education at the University of Wollongong is among many experts who have welcomed a mooted NAPLAN review.
Dr Mantei, who is also the NSW director of the Australian Literacy Educators' Association, said as with any nationally administered standardised assessment, NAPLAN attracts positive and negative attention.
The senior language and literacy lecturer added while it was true the MySchool website has focused considerable attention on the ways school populations perform in the NAPLAN assessment, the testing of whole cohorts isn't new.
"When we think about NAPLAN, it's important to remember that students have in the past and will continue to be tested using standardised assessments across their years of school," Dr Mantei said.
"When NAPLAN was introduced in 2008, it replaced existing assessments across Australian states and territories in an effort to gather cohesive national data about the development of what ACARA described as "essential" literacy and numeracy skills across the years of schooling."
But the Master of Teaching (Primary) academic program director added NAPLAN results alone cannot give information about student knowledge of unconstrained skills such as creativity, mathematical thinking, vocabulary or critical thinking.
"When used in isolation all assessments are limited in their capacity to provide a comprehensive view of individual student learning.
"When used in concert with standardised assessments such as NAPLAN, teachers can draw on their teaching expertise and content knowledge to plan for individual student learning within a grade or across transitions to new schools."