Just as Australia launches itself into a school ranking testing regime, other nations are pulling back! Far sighted trendsetters or backward movers?
It’s a problematic situation we are facing, largely because of several very powerful reasons.
Firstly, accurately measuring the level of value –adding that schools achieve to the learning of their students is no simple task. The current approach of using Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test results is too narrowly based and simplistic. There’s a whole lot more to learning than is provided through the snapshot of a single bank of tests in literacy and numeracy.
Secondly, as we have witnessed over the past several months, establishing “like school” data bases is fraught with problems. Indeed, the efforts of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) have bordered on farcical in plugging the holes in their methodology for working out like school cohorts.
Thirdly, and most importantly, there is precious little evidence internationally that such an approach, league tables of schools, leads to any quantifiable improvement in school performance.
As recently as mid March of this year, an internationally renowned Japanese strategist, Kenichi Ohmae, sometimes referred to as “Mr Strategist” dismissed school rankings in the strongest terms possible. In a key note speech titled “The Rise of Asia and the Role of Higher Education: New Platforms for Economic Growth” at the annual Asia-Pacific Association for International Education, hosted this year by National Taiwan University (NTU), Ohmae described school rankings as something that should be in a museum, saying that cyber leadership and the ability to inspire and act are key factors for educators to help make students winners in today’s fast-changing world. Sobering thoughts indeed!
Meanwhile closer to home, anecdotal evidence suggests that an increasing number of schools are ditching valuable programs in the areas of The Arts, Humanities and even Physical Education in their quest to pump up their NAPLAN results. Is that a good thing?
Worse still, and tragically so, evidence exists of teachers and schools engaging in dubious practices, such as “coaching answers” from students and “organising” the absence from school of students who may lower NAPLAN results on the days of testing. Is that the sort of climate that we welcome in our schools?
No one can quibble with the genuinely worthy aim of improving the learning outcomes of our children. Let’s not risk, however, proving Donald Horne’s 1960’s brutal indictment of our country, “Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck”, true in the twenty first century, by continuing with a second-rate way of measuring school performance.
Berwick Lodge Primary School