The Case Against League Tables

The case against reporting individual school results and league tables of school results was presented in a report by the ACT Government Schools Education Council in 2004 in response to the proposals of the then Commonwealth Education Minister, Dr. Brendan Nelson. The report provides a comprehensive analysis of the proposal drawing on international research evidence. It is re-published here as a resource in the discussion of the Rudd Government’s proposal for reporting school results.

This is a summary of the GSEC report.

The Government School Education Council recommends that the proposal of the Australian Government to require schools to publish their academic outcomes and other information on school performance be rejected because it is likely to:

  • provide an inaccurate and misleading picture of school quality;
  • lead to the construction of partial or full league tables of school results; and
  • undermine effective school improvement.

School outcomes information is likely to be an inaccurate and misleading measure of school quality because:

  • school outcomes are not influenced by teaching alone but also by other factors outside the control of teachers and schools;
  • standardised assessments are an incomplete measure of school outcomes as they cover only selective aspects of student learning;
  • school outcomes can be manipulated by cheating and by excluding low performing students; and
  • school results can be distorted by the results of a few students in small schools, by transfers of students between schools and other sources of statistical error.

League tables are likely to:

  • exacerbate the problems of misleading and inaccurate information about school performance associated with reporting school averages;
  • lead to a public debasement of schools with very poor results and a low ranking, and to public labelling of their students; and
  • lead to greater education inequities and social segregation of schools as high ranking schools select ‘good’ students and reject ‘poor’ students, while the best teachers move to the high ranking schools.

League tables also tend to undermine school improvement efforts because they may:

  • distort curriculum and teaching;
  • discourage collaboration between schools around improved strategies and practices;
  • promote increased focus on school image rather than school improvement; and
  • discourage parents from seeing themselves as partners in schooling and tend to promote a divisive relationship between parents and schools rather than a collaborative approach to learning.

Many studies of the impact of reporting school results are flawed in their methodology in that they fail to account for the influence of contemporaneous changes in education policies, programs and funding.

They also fail to account for the detrimental impact of reporting standardised test outcomes on some groups of students and on other areas of school learning not measured by the tests.

Overseas research studies show that schools have responded to the publication of school results in ways that artificially boost their comparative results. Many of these responses detract from overall student learning. They include:

  • ‘cream skimming’ high achieving students from other schools;
  • reducing time and resources devoted to student learning in curriculum areas and experiences not subject to standardised tests;
  • devoting more time and resources to students who are close to reporting benchmarks at the expense of both high achieving and very low achieving students;
  • finding ways to exclude low achieving students from the tests; and
  • cheating by helping students in tests and changing answers.

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