ABS Study Shows Big Achievement Gap Between Rich and Poor in Qld

A new paper published last month by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that students in higher SES families in Queensland do better in NAPLAN tests than students from lower SES families. It says that a strong relationship is apparent between the socio-economic status of the area in which the child lives and NAPLAN results in reading, writing and numeracy.

Students in the most disadvantaged areas were substantially more likely to score below the national minimum standard for each of the three domains than those in more advantaged areas. For example, 15% of students in the most disadvantaged quintile did not meet the national minimum standard for reading, compared with 4% in the most advantaged quintile.

A particularly interesting finding of the study is that the neighbourhood in which children live has a significant influence on school outcomes for both low and high SES children. In the most disadvantaged areas, 16 per cent of students in low income households (less than $600 per week) scored below the national minimum standard for reading compared to six per cent of students from low income households living in the most advantaged areas.

Similarly, 11 per cent of children from high income households ($3000 or more per week) in the most disadvantaged areas did not meet the national minimum standard compared to just two per cent from high income households in the most advantaged areas.

Students with highly educated parents do much better on NAPLAN than those with poorly educated parents. Less than two per cent of students whose father had a postgraduate or graduate level qualification scored below the national minimum standard for reading, compared with 12 per cent of students whose father’s highest educational attainment was Year 11 or below. The same pattern was seen for mothers’ qualifications, with three per cent of students whose mother had a postgraduate or graduate level qualification scoring below the national minimum standard for numeracy, compared with 12 per cent whose mother’s highest educational attainment was Year 11 or below.

Statistical analysis of the results showed that the odds for students from families where both parents had completed higher education achieving at or above the national minimum reading standard was 2.22 times the odds for students from families where neither parent had completed secondary school. Similar odds applied to writing and numeracy.

The paper found no clear relationship between household income and a student’s NAPLAN performance once other factors were held constant. It said that this is most likely because household income is strongly related to parental education, employment, and household composition, which are the underlying factors driving the differences in children’s NAPLAN scores.

Students with at least one parent born overseas tended to perform better on numeracy, reading and writing than those with both parents born in Australia. For example, seven per cent of those with both parents born in Australia scored below the national minimum standard for numeracy compared with around five per cent of those with one or both parents born overseas. A similar pattern can be seen for reading and writing. When other factors were held constant, students with at least one parent born overseas were more likely to score at or above the national minimum standard for reading and writing, compared to students with both parents born in Australia.

Students from families where no parent was employed were far more likely to score below the national minimum standard for numeracy, reading and writing. For example, 17 per cent of students in couple families where neither parent was employed did not meet the national minimum standard for reading compared to about six per cent where both parents were employed.

Consistent with the indicators of socioeconomic status, children of homeowners tended to do better on NAPLAN than renters, particularly those in public housing. Students whose home was rented from a state or territory housing authority had the largest proportion below the national minimum standard, with 18 per cent for numeracy, 21 per cent for reading and 25 per cent for writing. The comparative percentages for children whose home was owned, either outright or with a mortgage, were about three, five and seven per cent respectively.

Children in larger families were also more likely to score below the national minimum standard for reading, writing and numeracy. For example, more than twice the proportion of children in families with six or more children did not meet the national minimum standard for reading, compared with those in families with one child (19 compared with 7.5 per cent).

Students living in a dwelling with an internet connection had considerably better NAPLAN scores than students with no internet access, but those with broadband tended to do best. The proportion of children with broadband who scored below the national minimum standard for reading varied from seven per cent in Queensland’s major cities, up to 11 per cent in remote or very remote areas. In contrast, the proportion of students living in a dwelling with no internet connection who scored below the national minimum standard for reading varied from 15 per cent in major cities to 32 per cent in remote or very remote areas.

The ABS study thus contains many interesting results, but the standout is the significant influence of socio-economic background on NAPLAN results. It adds to the weight of evidence against those who continue to deny its impact.

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