Just a bit more on My School site

As I mentioned the other day, my current South Sydney Herald job is to write about the My School site and “league tables”. I will be referring in that to local schools, especially Darlington Public School and Cleveland Street Intensive English High School.

Just a couple of points to note here for you — and for my own use later on.

1. The “statistically similar” schools thingie really is a joke, isn’t it?

On the site it says “This is a measure used to compare schools with a similar student population. The measure enables the achievement of students in similar schools to be fairly and meaningfully compared.” No such luck. In yesterday’s Australian Justine Ferrari rightly nails that one.

THE school comparisons on the My School website are based on the characteristics of the general community rather than the background of the children attending each school, which testing experts said provides a flawed judgment of performance.

In forming groups of statistically similar schools to compare student results on My School, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority has matched students’ home addresses to census data to determine the social characteristics of the students.

Although the census includes information on households with school-aged children, ACARA decided not to use this information and instead used the information for all households in the neighbourhood.

The authority used the data to develop an index to account for differences in student backgrounds that affect educational achievement, called the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage, which accounts for 68 per cent of the variance in student results.

But Ben Jensen, school education research director at the Grattan Institute, said it excluded factors known to significantly affect schooling, including whether English was spoken as a second language, if the children were new to the school, refugees, had learning difficulties or disabilities and whether the school was academically selective.

Dr Jensen said the ICSEA assumed that the average socio-economic characteristics of the areas in which students lived represented the true circumstances of the students within a school…

Education consultant Peter Knapp, who ran international school tests for about 10 years through the University of NSW, said:”It would be preferable to develop an index based on school enrolment data that provides information about the real students in that school.”

Spot on! While Sydney Boys High, for example, is in Moore Park Surry Hills very few students there come from Surry Hills. Rather the geographic centre of the school’s clientele is probably somewhere near Ashfield, with students coming from a considerable range of feeder schools — in the past from as far away as Liverpool. So no matter how admirable the stats for Surry Hills might be they have no relation at all to the students at SBHS, or indeed to the students at Cleveland Street.

2. Teaching to the test

Of course with parental expectations and school funding at stake there will be an irresistible move towards teaching how to score in NAPLAN — and such coaching is not at all hard. Coaching colleges will do a roaring trade. Schools, as one would expect, are also getting in on the act. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald reports a clear sign of this pressure at work.

— See also NAPLAN tests and My School: one size doesn’t fit all on Crikey.

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Important comment from Marcellous

Marcellous has forced me to look again at the socioeconomic stats on My School. See My School ICSEA TECHNICAL PAPER 20091020.

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4 thoughts on “Just a bit more on My School site

  1. For me as much as you: see National tests ‘warping school curriculums’ from AM today. Especially note some of the comments! For example:

    That remains to be seen but it’s better than doing nothing at all. I think this protest is more about teachers not wanting to be held accountable for the quality of their work like most of us who work are. How can we address problems with education without knowing what and where the problems are? Of coarse parents have the right to know, that doesn’t mean they will make smart informed decissions, but it’s right to get it wrong (or right).

  2. N

    I don’t think they use the stats for Moore Park for SBH[S?]. They use the stats for where the students [pupils?] live. I don’t know if these are for the school as a whole or just for the years which are tested. Statistically this must just be a proxy for socio-economic indicators.

    It still may not be the case that those students [/pupils?] are in any way typical of where they live. To take a stereotypical and entirely hypothetical example, if every rural RC publican, solicitor and doctor sent his or her son to St Josephs or to Riverview, those kids probably wouldn’t be particularly representative of where they came from. The assumption that they are is what Dr Jensen [no relation to the other Jensens, I hope, for his sake] is criticising, as is Peter Knapp.

    Everyone wants the best for their own kid. This is a moment when, [nod to Larkin] it’s a relief not to have any kids myself – but not everyone is going to be a winner. It’s not as if being a winner at school means being a “winner” in life, whatever that means or even assuming that one accepts the implicit competitiveness of such a concept at all.

    So everyone scurries for an advantage for their offspring as best they know to get it except for those who haven’t a clue or have more than enough other problems on their plate.

    I would see it as a silver lining if the NAPLAN data saw the Cwth government actually spending real money on a substantive education revolution rather than or in addition to mere examination-convening money – ie, doing something about it rather than measuring things and leaving it to parents to “choose”. It could happen. My guess is there will be a bit of this, but over all we will see as much follow through as, for example, Mr Blair’s promise of a new justice for the middle east as the quid pro quo for the war in Iraq.

    In the meantime, I am really curious to know how they plan to supplement the present figures with further metrics. Exactly how will “bullying” be measured? Would it be too much to ask that treatment of gay/girly/sissyish boys be adopted as the canary in the mine shaft?

  3. Pingback: Ongoing thoughts from others on My School and related matters « Neil's second decade

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