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