Canberra’s key public-school parent group, the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, has condemned the publication of school league tables in The Canberra Times.
“Listing schools by their average NAPLAN scores and suggesting the top school is the best is a fiction,” said Hugh Boulter, Council spokesperson.
“It is simply invalid and misleading to compare Canberra’s diverse schools in this way,” he said. “The editors at paper know this but continue to print them. We strongly condemn the practice.”
“The table published today does not show which are our best and worst schools, but instead largely reflects which schools have the most advantaged and disadvantaged students,” said Mr Boulter. “It ignores the fact that students start from different places.”
“League tables only show where a school’s students are, not how far they have come. They don’t show how far the school has taken them,” said Mr Boulter. “This hides the excellent work which schools do with disadvantaged students.”
“To compare schools with very different student backgrounds is not valid,” explained Mr Boulter. “This fact is recognised by the makers of the My School website, from which The Canberra Times gets this data. My School does not allow direct comparisons to be made between schools with different student backgrounds. The Canberra Times gets around this by laboriously compiling data from each school and then comparing it in this crude way.”
“Clearly, comparing the student population at an exclusive private school with those at a school in a disadvantaged area on the one table is not valid,” said Mr Boulter.
“We know, for example, that kids whose parents went to university do better at these tests, regardless of the school they go to. So that can mean that a school gets a high ranking simply because a lot of their students’ parents went to university, and that has nothing to do with whether the school and teachers are doing a good job or not.”
“The real challenge is to overcome this entrenched inequality, where a student’s background so greatly affects their likely school performance. The Gonski panel recognised this, but the needs-based funding they recommended must be implemented federally,” said Mr Boulter.
In Australia a student’s background greatly influences how well they will do at school. Whether their parents went to university, work as professionals, or whether they live in a rural area or are indigenous, all help to predict a student’s performance. Because of this, only schools with similar student backgrounds – students who have started from a similar point – can be meaningfully compared. Otherwise, the apparent better performance of one school is most likely due to higher-advantage students attending the school and bringing their advantage with them, rather than because of the school’s environment or teaching approach.