Reform Council Report Highlights Achievement Gaps

A report recently released by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) shows continuing large achievement gaps between rich and poor in Australia.

COAG reform council chairman, Paul McClintock, said the council was concerned to find big differences between states and territories in the achievement of students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

“Nationally, the gap between high and low SES student performance in reading and numeracy is 10 percentage points or more at each year level of testing,” he said. “This is clearly an issue that requires renewed attention.”

Mr. McClintock was speaking on the release of the council’s report Education 2010: Comparing Performance Across Australia It is the council’s third annual report on the performance of governments under the National Education Agreement.

The report analyses data on progress in national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) results for 2010. It shows that students from more disadvantaged socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds achieve at much lower levels compared with students from less disadvantaged backgrounds. This trend is observed in all states and territories.

High proportions of students from high SES families consistently achieved national minimum standards in literacy and numeracy, with 97-99% achieving the standards in Years 3,5,7 & 9 in both reading and numeracy.

In contrast, much lower proportions of low SES students achieved the standards. Nationally, 18% of low SES students in Years 5 & 9 did not achieve the national reading benchmark compared to 2% of high SES students. In the case of Year 3, 13% of low SES students did not achieve the benchmark compared to 2% of high SES students while 11% of low SES Year 7 students did not achieve the standard compared to 1% of high SES students.

In numeracy, 14% of low SES students in Years 5 & 9 did not achieve the national benchmark compared to 2% of high SES students. The gap was slightly lower in Years 3 & 7.

There are also large differences across states and territories. The gaps are massive in the Northern Territory, ranging from 36 to 47 percentage points in reading at the different year levels and 35 to 43 points for numeracy. This compares with the national gaps of 10 to 16 points in reading and 10 to 12 in numeracy.

The reading gaps are significantly above the national average in Queensland and Western Australia while Victoria has the smallest gaps. There is less variation in numeracy, although the gaps are quite high in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia in Year 5.

The media release from Federal Education Minister, Peter Garrett, on the COAG report failed to say anything about these continuing gaps. It seems the Minister does not want to know about them.

Trevor Cobbold

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