Happier kids get better test results

9 February 2022

Students' NAPLAN results are linked to far more than their time spent on homework, new research from The Australian National University (ANU) and Gradient Institute has found. 

The researchers found subjective well-being has a significant impact on academic performance.

In a study of 3,400 students, the researchers found that self-reported levels of depression had a large, negative effect on their NAPLAN results months later.  

"This research has a far more wide-reaching effect than just NAPLAN tests, it shapes the way education professionals should approach teaching as a whole," study author Dr Diana Cardenas said. 

"Our findings show that teaching for test scores isn't enough. There is great benefit when schools care about the head and the heart of their students. 

"Subjective well-being - how a person perceives their emotions and experiences - is an under-explored area in education."  
 
According to the researchers, previous studies have focused on depression and anxiety from a medical viewpoint, excluding the experience of the vast majority of students who may experience low well-being, but lack a professional diagnosis.  

"Quantifying these relationships taking many other factors into account has been a major challenge for researchers but now there is clear evidence," study co-author Professor Kate Reynolds said. 

The research found that students who self-report lower well-being perform worse academically.

Dr Cardenas and her team, which includes members of the Gradient Institute and education policymakers, aim to use this research to shape the education system in Australia. 

"Schools serve as a key institution for building positive futures and for liaison between families and community services, which can together address youth depression and well-being," she said. 

"Better understanding the relationship between well-being and learning performance will help prioritise resources and new innovations to ensure the best outcomes for children and youth and ultimately Australia's future success."

Dr Cardenas and her team collaborated with machine learning researchers from Gradient Institute to apply a new methodological approach.

" The amount and the complexity of the data meant we had to take a novel analytical approach that used machine learning to quantify the relationships between wellbeing and NAPLAN result." said Dr Dan Steinberg, Principal Researcher at Gradient Institute.

 

This study has been published in Scientific Reports.