Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

My School Has Failed to Improve School Results

Tuesday March 24, 2015

My School has failed dismally in its main objective to improve school results. Reading, writing and numeracy test scores have largely stagnated or fallen since the website was established. There has been no improvement in the percentage of students achieving the national minimum NAPLAN standards.

The review of the website released by the Federal Government at the weekend completely ignores this failure even though the review’s key terms of reference was to report on success of the site in meeting its original purpose.

My School was established in 2010 with great fanfare by the Federal Labor Goverment. It was claimed that publishing school results would promote greater transparency and accountability for school performance. The national council of education ministers stated:

Through better monitoring of performance at the student, school and system level, educational outcomes can be lifted across all schools. [Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), Communique, 17 April 2009]

The then Federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, said that it would motivate schools to do better.

My School is an important step in the Government’s Education Revolution—providing unprecedented transparency and helping drive vital improvements in school education. [Julia Gillard, Media Release, 27 January 2010]

It was expected that publication of school results would encourage competition between schools to improve results. However, My School has been operating now for six years with little sign of the promised improvement in student results.

There were no statistically significant changes in the percentage of students at or above the national minimum standards in reading, writing and numeracy from 2009 to 2014 [see Chart 1 below].

There were small improvements in primary school reading but secondary school reading results are unchanged since 2009 [Chart 2]. The average Year 9 score in 2014 was similar to that in 2009 while the small increase in Year 7 is within the statistical margin of error.

Writing scores declined significantly at all Year levels between 2011 and 2014 (comparative data for persuasive writing is only available from 2011). The Year 7 and 9 scores fell by 17 and 16 points respectively, which is equivalent to nearly a year of learning at these levels [Chart 3]. The Year 3 and 5 scores fell by 13 and 14 points respectively, which is equivalent to less than half a year of learning at these levels.

Average numeracy scores were largely unchanged. There were virtually no changes average scores in Years 5, 7 & 9, but a small increase in Year 3 [Chart 4].

The review of My School was asked to report on the “success of the site in meeting the original purpose of My School” but the published report completely ignored this terms of reference and failed to provide any evidence on school outcomes since the inception of My School.

The failure of My School to improve school results is not surprising. The evidence of numerous research studies is that reporting school results and increasing competition between schools does not improve school performance. There is no conclusive evidence that such policies improve student achievement or reduce achievement gaps.

The Government’s response to the report claims that research from the United States shows that the introduction of accountability measures has had a positive impact on student performance. However, it only cites one study from over ten years ago supporting this conclusion while a vast number of studies show no significant effect on performance.

The Government’s claim also completely ignored more recent research evidence. For example, the OECD released a damning verdict on the impact of competition between schools only last year. It bluntly stated that the PISA international test data shows that more competition has failed to improve student results and has increased social segregation between schools.

The latest PISA results show that, on average across countries, school competition is not related to better mathematics performance among students. In systems where almost all 15-year-olds attend schools that compete for enrolment, average performance is similar to that in systems where school competition is the exception. Within school systems, there is no performance difference between schools that compete with other schools for students and those that do not, after taking into account students’ socio‑economic status.

An OECD report on the 2012 PISA results was just as blunt in its conclusion:

Competition among schools is intended to provide incentives for schools to innovate and create more effective learning environments. System-level correlations in PISA do not show a relationship between the degree of competition and student performance. [p.54]

The same report found no relationship between the publication of school test scores and mathematics performance across OECD countries and other countries participating in PISA [Table IV1.4, p. 235]. The analysis also showed that social segregation is greater in school systems where schools compete for students than in systems with less competition.

A major review of test-based accountability measures published by the US National Research Council found that the effects on student achievement “have been quite small” and that the “body of evidence is not encouraging about the ability of incentive programs to reliably produce meaningful increases in student achievement” [p. 85].

The head of the Australian Council for Educational Research, Geoff Masters, recently said that competition and accountability regimes have proved ineffective in raising school performance.

...the countries that have been pursuing these strategies tend to be the countries that have experienced the greatest declines in student performance over the past decade. Major English-speaking countries saw significant declines in reading levels, and similar declines in mathematics. Although it is not possible to attribute these declines to any specific education policy, it is also difficult to conclude that incentive schemes and school accountability arrangements in these countries had a positive impact on student performance. [p.8]

The lesson from this and other research is that Australia should look beyond failed competition and test-based accountability policies for ways to improve school performance and reduce achievement gaps between rich and poor.

Masters set the path in his paper. He noted some common themes among the countries in which average student performance and equity were improving. One is that policy initiatives in these countries have been focused on building the capacity of school leaders and classroom teachers to deliver high quality teaching and learning, and on ensuring that excellent teaching and leadership are distributed throughout the school system.

Another feature of high-performing systems is that they have put in place system-wide processes to identify students who are falling behind and to intervene quickly to put students back on track. These countries set high expectations for every student’s learning.

Successful countries also focus on improving performance improves across the entire education system. They do this by ensuring that that resources (money; high quality teachers and leaders) are equitably distributed across all schools and that resources are targeted according to student need. This is reinforced by the findings of the OECD:

Higher-performing school systems allocate resources more equitably among socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged schools. [p. 17]

Sounds a bit like Gonksi!

Trevor Cobbold

NAPLAN Test Results 2009-2014.pdf

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