Save Our Schools has released a 55-page study which shows that student outcomes in the ACT have stagnated since 2001 when the Stanhope Government was first elected. SOS spokesman, Trevor Cobbold, said that the report is a damning indictment of the Government’s record in education.
The study is a comprehensive review of student outcomes on a range of international and national tests covering reading, mathematics, science, civics and citizenship and ICT literacy at different Year levels. It also includes data on retention and completion rates to Year 12.
It shows that the ACT has high average school outcomes by international and national standards. It has high average outcomes for international assessments of 15 year-olds and Year 4 and Year 8 students and high average outcomes in national benchmark assessments for Years 3, 5 and 7. The ACT also has very high retention and completion rates to Year 12.
However, many students do not achieve an adequate education. About 2900 secondary school students, including 1600 in the government sector, are at the lowest levels of achievement in reading, mathematics and science. About 15 per cent of students enrolled in Year 10 in government schools do not proceed to Year 11 and about 20 per cent of Year 11 students do not complete Year 12.
The study demonstrates that there is significant social inequity in student outcomes in the ACT. There is a large achievement gap between high and low SES students of about 2½ years of schooling. This achievement gap is the highest in Australia, apart from the Northern Territory and there is no evidence that it has been reduced since 2000. Low SES students in the ACT are doing no better than low SES students across Australia.
School outcomes in the ACT have not improved in recent years and have declined significantly in some areas since 2000. Average reading achievement by 15 year-old students has declined by the equivalent of 6 months of schooling. There have been significant declines in achievement for 15 year-old students at the top levels in reading and mathematics. There has been no reduction in the proportion of 15 year-old students achieving at the bottom levels in reading and mathematics.
In addition, there was no improvement in the proportion of students achieving the national benchmarks in reading, writing and numeracy between 2001 and 2007 or in retention and completion rates to Year 12.
Mr. Cobbold said that the study puts some key challenges on the public agenda that must be addressed by political parties and aspiring candidates in the forthcoming ACT election.
“The challenge facing the ACT is to develop a high quality/high equity school system instead of continuing to make do with a high quality/low equity system. We cannot be satisfied with a system that fails to deliver successful outcomes for students from low income families.
“The key challenges are to reduce the large achievement gap between students from low and high income families and reduce the proportion of students whose outcomes are at the lowest levels.
“To do this, we must improve teaching and learning opportunities for students who are not succeeding and increase student welfare, behavioural and learning support measures. Another priority is to develop home/school partnerships, especially with the families of students who have fallen behind.
“A larger proportion of school funding should also be allocated according to student learning needs. At present, only about 5-10% of total funding for government schools is based on learning need. This is making it very difficult for schools with a high proportion of students at the lowest achievement levels to make progress.”