Thursday, January 28, 2010

League Tables - My School website

As a teacher, you can imagine I have been asked numerous times what I think about the new 'My School' website. Well, here it is......

The idea of accountability for schools is one which I feel is a wonderful idea. It is imperative that schools are accountable for their performance and the achievement of their students. The information gained from such analysis should allow the government to allocate resources (people and money) to the schools most in need of the support. It allows them to perform underperforming schools and work towards increasing the achievement of these schools.

Does the My School website allow this to take place? Well, my main concerns are.......

1. The NAPLAN tests used for the website are a single test. Annually schools look through their results and identify numerous under or overperforming students. The way in which this test has traditionally been used by schools is to identify general trends and guide teaching towards addressing these areas of concern. To have schools labelled as over or under performing on the basis of 2 grades results on one test is not a true reflection of the schools achievements.

2. Already many tutored students spend a great deal of time preparing a pre written response to the writing aspect of NAPLAN. As they are not penalised for not writing to the topic listed in the test, they are free to use their pre written response to good effect. Do we really believe that once schools start losing enrollments and then staff due to poor results that they will not be tempted to 'Teach to the Test'? It has already been an established practice in America and England where schools that may be identified as high achievers through their single test rankings do not necessarily provide a sound and broad education to their students, instead they perform well on a narrow set of skills. As a result, the results will not necessarily reflect which schools present the best learning programs to their students, merely those which best prepare their students for a single test.

3. Parents have been encouraged to have 'rigorous debates' with their child's Principal if the results are not up to scratch. Although this may make the parents feel better, what does it achieve? Schools are very limited in the public system in their ability to move underperforming teachers out of the classroom to further develop their skills. Many parents may find that some Principals agree with their concerns, but are unable to make any major changes to address these issues.

4. Teachers who are highly effective within underperforming schools are not going to want to stick around to be labelled as a poor performing teacher because of the results of two grades within the school. As a result, you may see an exit of the very type of teacher underperforming schools need.

5. Parents will look at the most recent data. In the case of many schools I have looked at, this year's results are not something to be overly proud of. However, by looking at the previous year's data, a very different story is presented. Instead of performing under like schools in most areas, many school are well above like schools in all areas. This issue of higher and lower performing cohorts is one which schools have faced as a challenge for many years. Do we really want to label particular grades as the 'low achievers' and have parents take their children out of these grades even though they may be achieving wonderful results just because of their peers inability to achieve at the same level?

6. The only true indication of a schools ability to meet the learning needs of its students is to look at the 'value added' to the students. By the nature of particular populations, the students have lower achievement levels when they enter the school. In many schools, they work extremely hard to achieve the best learning outcomes for the students within the school. A school's ability to grow a student well beyond the levels of growth achieved in better performing schools goes unrecognised. There are many schools whose results appear wonderful at first glance. However, this is largely due to the fact that their student population is reflective of the community which they come from. They always have and always will be high achieving. However, a good look at the value added may present a completely different picture and show that many of these schools do not achieve the same growth as their 'poorer cousins' and merely allow these naturally more capable students to continue to achieve good results whilst never getting anywhere near the true potential these students could achieve if they had teachers with the innovative and dynamic teaching skills usually found in school in areas where teachers don;t go to retire.

As I said, I actually find the idea of accountability a wonderful one. However, until schools have the support to make real changes and are provided with resources based on need and not a formula I see the new My School initiative as doing nothing but unfairly labelling some schools achieving wonderful growth for their students whilst painting others in a glowing light even if they are actually not providing the best learning initiatives for their students.


  1. Hi Steve. You summed it up very well!
    I think it will be a while until this is all sorted out.

  2. Hi Steve
    Those schools that seem to be far better in performance, are they schools that have an OC selective class in their results? Wouldnt it be fairer to not include any OC results in that schools average as they are actually student from MANY schools selected to be there?

  3. This is indeed another issue with the results. In schools where a Year 5 OC class is housed, these students could make up 1/3 or more of the schools cohort. Likewise in schools where a language class is hosted 10% or more of the students within the Year 3 or 5 cohort could come from this class. These numbers can certainly have a big impact upon the data reported.

  4. My one question to Gillard and Rudd would be this - "now that you have identified the "bottom" schools, what are you and the state governments going to do to improve their performance?". They need to show how this new information is going to help, and if the answer does not address how they are going to prevent the schools at the bottom from any ... See moredecline through a mass exodus of pupils then this whole idea of league tables needs to be reviewed (and no, I am not a teacher.....just sick of Federal Labor spin and inaction)

    Rob Harriss

  5. Steve.....your thoughts are brilliant!!! You've made me think about this - and I mean really think - and have made me aware of many issues that I didn't know existed. We should be doing everything possible to attract and retain as many great teachers as possible.....league tables will not do this

    Rob Harriss