MySchool: Part II

The MySchool site lists each Australian school in a group of 60 ‘similar’ institutions using the ‘Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage’ (ICSEA). As explained at the site:

The performance of schools on NAPLAN tests is greatly affected by a range of student intake and school location characteristics. When comparing schools, it is important to compare like with like. The My School website allows and encourages comparisons with schools that are statistically similar in terms of a range of factors known to affect test performance.

This has led to Ms Gillard often using the phrase, ‘comparing apples with apples’ in an attempt to validate the data. The line is very much to say, it may not be fair to compare a wealthy school with a one from an impoverished area of the country but just look at the similar schools comparison and you can see how your place is doing. It is a fair and just comparison!

Here is further explanation of how ICSEA is supposed to work.

However, this has been widely criticised with some quite embarrassing media stories about the problems with the statistically reliable measure of similar schools. When you look at the website and see the ‘value’ of a community:

it feels wrong, and terrible. Most schools score between 900-1100 with 1000 being the average. It feels like communities are being ranked and assigned ‘a value’. The justification, of course, is so the school can be compared fairly with another. I doubt this is possible, or desirable, for a range of reasons. Trevor Cobbold, an economist for the Australian Productivity Commission for more than 30 years and convener of the Save Our Schools public education advocacy group, has been trenchant in his opposition to the New York model and wrote a thoughtful article early last year covering a range of these issues.

Like many Australians, I have looked closely at all the schools personally known to me, dating back to my own kindergarten days, including the ones surrounding them. After a while, I started to notice some oddities with the lists of similar schools.

Here’s one, as an example: choose a selective school in NSW. Look at the similar schools and check who they are compared; see if there are other selective schools in the group. The first example I found was ‘similar’ to a regional high school and one on the outskirts of Sydney. Both were comprehensive, co-educational, non-selective schools. It seemed difficult to imagine they were in any way similar. Of course, the selective high school was way above the other similar schools in the group. Adding the selective high school’s data must have made it challenging for other schools in the group to ‘compete’ with an ‘elite’, creamed off by testing in Year 6. Or, have I got this wrong?

What have you observed when looking at similar schools? Please be sensitive and sensible when posting.

What should we, as a nation, be most ashamed about with our education system? Inequality? Party political politics that has led to, what Professor Barry McGaw has said, that poor Australian children are less likely to do well at school than disadvantaged children overseas. I find it difficult to imagine that any Australian can live with that stark comment, priding ourselves, as we do, on having an egalitarian society.

There are many, simple and complex, reasons that this has developed and the MySchool website is going to result in many unintended outcomes. The best possible outcome from the publication of the NAPLAN data at the MySchool website would be government levelling the playfield. Considering how funding works at a federal level and the electoral pressures of continuing to fund wealthy private schools at the rate of the previous Liberal/National government, one hopes that the hidden agenda is to address this funding issue.

The Deputy Prime Minister’s agenda, expressed here in a mid-2008 lecture, is now in a crucial phase and leaves us with many questions. She said, in the lecture:

How can we hope to address the needs of individual students and whole communities if we are not using the best possible information as the basis for our decisions?

We need all of this information, not for the production of crude league tables but to inform a real program to address disadvantage. And we need all of this information, and more, in the public domain to inform parents and teachers in their efforts.

It is only with this information that we can truly assess the work being done by schools, their strengths and their weaknesses. And it is only by having this information we can look at comparable schools, compare results, understand different patterns of disadvantage, identify the best teaching practices and share them.

Ms Gillard will have to be skilful to avoid, what she said of John Howard’s government education policies:

…division (is) the Howard Government’s legacy to the nation in education

Read MySchool: Part 1

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The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

8 Comments

  1. Troy:

    Or, have I got this wrong? No. I found a similar pattern. From a personal interest I looked closely at the percentage of identified Indigenous students. I found schools with 11% Indigenous population compared with schools with none.
    What kind of culture do we want to build?

  2. Lyn:

    My thoughts exactly, Troy!

  3. Bernard Court:

    I think you’ve nailed it Darcy. She’s already gone the divisive John Howard route with the launch of the website according to the news today: some parents moving kids from “bad” schools and others trying to line up enrollment at “good” schools years in advance. If there really was an agenda to address the inequalities and disadvantage “they” have the data and should use it – not publish it (on a dodgy website) to the detriment of half the schools in the country. I don’t have an axe to grind my independent school has performed quite well. We aren’t a wealthy school and it’s a struggle to fund new technologies, build another classroom and do maintenance etc. However I know there are schools out there who are far worse off than mine and I think they should be looked after before the schools that are better off. The Myschool website is not the answer.

  4. I think that ACARA need to clarify how much manual manipulation of the ICSEA figures has taken place. They note in their document:

    “ICSEA values were revised for situations in which schools had a student population with social and economic characteristics that were not well reflected in ABS census collection district data.”

    There seems to be more manipulation than that. I work in a 7-10 school. All three 7-10 schools in our collegiate have the same ICSEA value, despite drawing from very different areas. I understand that the senior campus would have an combined value from all three schools, but cannot understand how the junior schools get the exact same value.

  5. tony coleman:

    If the government is to be believed , then a plan to distribute the $2billion in funds that Ms Gillard claims to have earmarked for underperforming schools should have been released at the same time as the My School website.

    Otherwise, I agree with Darcy, this is simply a divisive tool where the labor government is pitting parents against the education community for political gain,

    As educators we are all aware of the close correlation between educational outcomes and socioeconomic status. The sad thing is that all governments are also very aware of this correlation.

    The challenge has always been to get federal and state money from treasury into education and into disadvantaged communities. Politicians all know what has to be done but as always they lack the courage, in the face of powerful interest groups, to do it.

    The politicians acknowledge the impact of low socioeconomic circumstance on a child’s education by the need for an index. The proper funding of the poorer schools should be the immediate priority. It is also the most challenging task, therefore the one that politicians will constantly want to divert our attention from.

  6. darcymoore:

    Thanks for your POVs Troy, Lyn, Bernard, Simon and Tony. It seems that the best possible outcome of the MySchool decision will be if poorer communities benefit. It is hard to justify spending tax dollars on already wealthy schools when so many are struggling. I note the th ePM today has said the data at MySchool will be expanded to include innovation, bullying and other financial details if the ALP wins the next election. Full speed ahead it seems.

  7. I was amazed at how many people in my workplace – people with engineering and computer science degrees, highly trained in maths and statistics – at first thought that ICSEA was the measure of “how good” a school was.

    When I explained it was more of an educational advantage indicator, they used it as a socio-economic indicator to compare suburbs and work out where it would be best to live.

    It’ll be interesting if it has any effect on property values. Cool for us if it does – did you see the results for Jamberoo Primary? :-)

  8. darcymoore:

    Yes, one needs to spend some time with the data to understand it, even in a shallow way.

    I’ll email you re: your PS results.

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