School Reputations Trashed by My School Errors

Hundreds of Australian schools have had their reputations needlessly trashed for over a year, according to an analysis of My School by writer and public education advocate Chris Bonnor. His disturbing revelations are contained in a new article in Inside Story

Mr Bonnor said he was shocked at the extent to which My School 1.0 had misrepresented the achievement of students, teachers and schools – and had encouraged parents to make comparisons based on insufficient and misleading data.

My School 2.0 shows that hundreds of schools previously shamed by the flawed comparisons now appear in a much more favourable light. Schools which first appeared to be ahead of others have now slipped behind. The schools didn’t change – all that changed was the ICSEA index used to enable school comparisons. Mr Bonnor’s study shows that the schools previously given an ICSEA of 1000 are now spread from 941 to 1059.

“Suddenly it seems that they are not at all enrolling similar students.”

Mr Bonnor said that the then education minister Julia Gillard declared the earlier index to be valid and robust.

“That claim was just one of many issued by the federal government, supported by State education ministers, that was not supported by the evidence.

Mr Bonnor said that My School was rushed online in January 2010, at least a year before it was anywhere near ready. It was a fraud inflicted on schools by a government that was happy to seek political gain at the expense of schools and teachers.

“The sad thing is that the schools most damaged by the unfair comparisons are those serving our most disadvantaged students. They didn’t need the extra burden of shame orchestrated by the federal government and implemented by ACARA. Amidst all the talk about accountability for schools it seems that it is the federal government which will avoid being called to account on this issue.

Mr Bonnor said that the improvements in My School 2.0 are very welcome.

“But we can only successfully move on if we learn from the mistakes and subject every claim about the new website to the maximum possible scrutiny.”

He said that significant problems still exist: schools still cannot be fairly compared using data and information provided on My School 2.0.

“At the very least the federal government should now agree to three things.

Firstly it should make some statement of regret that it has subjected so many schools to unfair comparison.

Secondly it should add to every page of the website a statement along the lines of: ‘Information available on this site is incomplete. It does not support precise comparisons of schools.’

Thirdly it should urgently commission research to see if the website goes anywhere near meeting the claims made about its purpose.

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