"What the 10-year data indicates is that change is happening ... and this is to be welcomed," ACARA CEO, Robert Randall said.

"Importantly, we see a gradual redistribution of students from lower bands of achievement to higher ones, particularly in some domains and year levels, such as Year 3 reading. In other areas, this improvement has not always been great enough to significantly impact national averages, but it is certainly a positive trend."

The results indicate gains across the board in reading and numeracy since 2008, but results for writing have dropped since 2011.

Similarly, in the past year students performed better in reading and numeracy, but writing results continued to dip.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham weighed in on the “mixed bag” of NAPLAN findings and the “worrying” decline in writing skills, calling upon education policy makers to “re-focus” their energies on quality teaching and learning programs that are proven to lift results. 

“Some of the longer-term trends highlight great advances in areas of reading, writing and numeracy but we need to be aiming for more consistent improvements. That means looking at what can be learned from our high-achieving schools and what they do that can apply in other schools,” Birmingham said.

Randall agreed, saying we should now pin-point those schools doing “tremendous things” and replicate them on a wider scale.  The change has to to be made at a school level, he said. 

"We do need to pick up on those (top performers) and say if it's working well in these schools, why can't it work well across a whole range of schools? That's the nature of the discussion we need to focus on,” he told ABC TV. 

John Hattie, laureate professor and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at The University of Melbourne, was positive about the latest crop of NAPLAN results, especially those from New South Wales schools.

 “I’m delighted to see the improved performance of NSW Year 9 students in this year’s NAPLAN results,” he told EducationHQ.

“A range of factors contribute to results like these, but the new HSC Minimum Standard can help focus school-wide efforts to ensure these improvements are sustained.”

Hattie applauded the “collective efforts” taken by all Australian teachers, students and parents to address the challenge of lifting literacy and numeracy outcomes, but warned that those at the front line need sustained support. 

“Literacy and numeracy skills are the key to educational attainment. These are the foundations on which students build to develop more complex skills, which empower them to fully participate in work and life after leaving school. 

“What we must continue to do is support teachers – supporting the quality and capacity of those at the front of the class to make an impact on student learning across the board.” 

Opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek blamed Birmingham's predecessor Christopher Pyne for student’s slipping writing standards, noting that Pyne scrapped Labor's conditions to make schools use extra funding to fuel academic outcomes.

Labor's targets included getting Australia into the top five countries in the world for reading, maths and science, raising teaching quality, and handing principals more power.

Birmingham said the Turnbull Government was now focused on building a “quality reform agenda” to ensure that every dollar from Gonski 2.0 was spent as effectively as possible.

“We’ve appointed David Gonski to lead a panel of eminent educators and policy experts to advise on the best evidence-based practices for our students that will help guide how our schools and educators focus resources in classrooms,” he said.

“By this time next year we’ll be delivering the programs and initiatives David Gonski and his panel recommend that build on the changes the Turnbull Government has made to improve teaching quality already…”

Final results will be released in December. 

Highlights of this year's NAPLAN results include:

* There is evidence of movement of students from lower to higher bands of achievement across year levels and most domains over the last 10 years.

* Year 3 reading results continue to show sustained improvement.

* ACT, Victoria and NSW continue to have high mean achievement across all domains.

* There are increases in mean achievement in the Northern Territory in primary years reading and numeracy since 2008.

* WA and Queensland have the largest growth in mean achievement across most domains since 2008.

* Percentage of students meeting the national minimum standard remains high - over 90 per cent nationally and in most states and territories, across all domains and year levels.