My School 2.0 Misleads on Test Results but Reveals Large Resource Differences between Schools

My School remains highly misleading, unreliable, unfair and harmful to education in its reporting of school test results. It fosters the publication of unfair and misleading school league tables. It encourages schools to cheat and rort their results. It punishes low performing schools by red-flagging them. It is biased against government schools. It harms education by encouraging weeks and months of practising for tests at the expense of other subjects. However, it does reveal huge achievement gaps and resource disparities between disadvantaged government schools and elite private schools.

My School has fostered league tables. Despite promises from the Federal Government that changes to the My School website would make it more difficult for media organisations and others to compile league tables at least three major metropolitan newspapers published rankings of schools.

League tables would not exist but for My School. However, government ministers have washed their hands of all responsibility for this while maintaining their hypocritical mantra that they oppose league tables. This is gross political disingenuousness that we see all too often nowadays from politicians.

League tables give misleading and inaccurate comparisons of school performance because the results are significantly affected by the socio-economic background of school communities. League table rankings are more a measure of the family background of a school than a measure of its quality.

League tables also fail to take account of the many factors outside schools which influence student test results. These include student absenteeism and mobility between schools, the extent of parent involvement in learning at home, and the extent to which students are engaged in after hours tutoring. For example, if a higher proportion of families engage private tutoring in any one year a school will receive a boost to its measured performance and league table ranking even though there was no change in teaching effectiveness during the year.

With school reputations and the careers of principals and teachers at stake, My School has also fostered cheating and rorting of school results. There is widespread evidence of schools rorting their results in various ways. Last year, it was revealed that many schools encouraged low achieving students and special needs students to stay at home during the test period. Many private schools now select students by their literacy and numeracy test results.

Many incidents of cheating have come to light including helping students with answers during tests, leaving posters on classroom walls so students can refer to them during tests and changing answers after students completed the tests.

Cheating and rorting of school literacy and numeracy results didn’t exist before My School was launched. They are now a feature of the national tests.

My School 2.0 continues the practice of giving red flags to schools with low results. This is public naming and shaming of the worst possible kind. It humiliates and punishes schools, their teachers, their students and their families. The Prime Minister always promised this would never happen.

The school test comparisons on My School 2.0 are biased against government schools. The raw results unfavourably compare government and private schools because of the differences in their enrolment composition. On average, a much higher proportion of government school enrolments consist of low SES (socio-economic status), Indigenous, disability and remote area students. These backgrounds are strongly associated with lower test results.

In addition, the so-called “like school” comparisons on My School 2.0 are defective because of missing data which is concentrated amongst low income families. The missing data causes the socio-economic status of government schools with a large proportion of low SES students to be over-estimated and their school results to be unfairly compared with higher SES government and private schools.

My School is harming education because it fosters “teaching to the test” in literacy and numeracy and less classroom time spent on other subjects. Weeks and months at the beginning of the school year are now devoted to doing practice tests. Classrooms are being turned into rote learning factories. Meanwhile, learning in science, history, languages, arts and music suffers because much less time is spent on these non-tested subjects.

One improvement in the reporting of school results on My School 2.0 is the publication of the margins of error on the results for each school. However, the league tables published in newspapers failed to report these error margins, which are high for many schools. The school rankings are highly misleading because there is no statistical difference between the results for schools whose error margins overlap.

A major positive of My School 2.0 is the publication of school financial data. It has strengthened the case for change in the funding of government and private schools by exposing the massive resource advantage of elite private schools over highly disadvantaged government schools.

My School 2.0 shows that schools serving Australia’s wealthiest and most privileged families have double or more the resources of disadvantaged schools, most of whom are government schools. For example, Sydney Grammar had a gross income of $35,856 per student in 2009 and 92 per cent of its students are in the top SES quartile. This compares to less than $15,000 per student in several highly disadvantaged government high schools in western Sydney which have about 70 per cent of their students in the bottom SES quartile.

Melbourne Grammar’s gross income was $28,393 per student and 83 per cent of its students are in the top SES quartile. This compares with $13,000 or less for several disadvantaged schools in different parts of Melbourne which have about 70 per cent or more of their students in the bottom SES quartile. For example, Norlane High School in northern Geelong had funding of $13,308 per student and 85 per cent of its students in the lowest SES quartile and Thomastown Secondary School in the northern suburbs of Melbourne received $12,785 in funding with 76 per cent of its students in the lowest SES quartile. Other disadvantaged schools had even less funding.

There are massive differences in student test results between students at Melbourne and Sydney Grammars and those at disadvantaged schools. In many cases, the differences are over 200 points on the NAPLAN scale and amount to several years of schooling.

Yet, despite these massive achievement gaps and the huge resource advantage that elite schools have over disadvantaged schools they continue to get large government grants. Sydney Grammar and Melbourne Grammar got over $3,000 per student in government funding in 2009. This is an appalling waste of taxpayer funds while the most disadvantaged schools in the country are denied adequate funding.

Government funding for private schools has reached the stage of brazen resources greed. It is time to fund need, not greed.

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