A study published today by Save Our Schools, a public education advocacy group, calls for a full independent public inquiry into ‘like school’ comparisons on the My School website.
SOS spokesman, Trevor Cobbold, said that the comparisons are biased against government schools and littered with flaws and omissions.
“The so-called ‘like school’ comparisons are systematically biased in favour of private schools and against government schools. They are constructed in a way that makes private school results look better than government school results.
“The Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) used to classify schools with a similar socio-economic student profile is flawed. It attributes each student with the average socio-economic status (SES) of the area in which they live rather than the actual SES of their family. This leads to misclassifications of students because, as studies by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show, high and low income families often live in the same areas.
“The much greater tendency of high income families to choose private schools means that the average SES of private schools is artificially lowered by ICSEA while the average SES of government schools is artificially inflated. This results in comparisons of unlike schools rather than like schools.
“The ABS refers to the dissonance between area-based and family based measures of SES as an ‘ecological fallacy’. My School has committed a gross ecological fallacy in its comparisons of so-called similar government and private schools.”
Mr. Cobbold said that the ‘like school’ comparisons on My School are a travesty and a scandal.
“My School fails to consistently compare like with like. The so-called ‘like school’ comparisons also ignore major differences in the student composition of schools which strongly influence school test results, including differences by gender, ethnic sub-groups and students with disabilities.
“Average test results of Chinese students are well above those of Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander students. Schools with a similar ICSEA rating could have quite different average results simply because some have a high proportion of students of Chinese origin while others have a high proportion of Middle Eastern or Pacific Islander students.
“Schools with higher proportions of students with disabilities participating in tests may have lower average results than other schools with a similar ISCEA value. Government schools could be disadvantaged by ‘like school’ comparisons because they have higher proportions of students with disabilities than private schools.
“The My School comparisons also fail to take account of large differences in school funding between the states and between high SES private schools and high SES government schools. They do not take account of high student mobility between schools, school size differences, student selection and private tutoring outside school.”
Mr. Cobbold said that the methodology behind the My School comparisons should be subjected to a full independent public review.
“My School contains so many flaws that those who choose schools or make policy decisions based on these comparisons of so-called ‘like schools’ will be highly misled. It is an absolute scandal that a website purporting to present school performance data objectively fails to consistently compare like with like.
“An independent public review of ICSEA should be conducted to find a better way of determining like schools.
“ACARA has acknowledged that there are anomalies in its ‘like school’ comparisons and says it will conduct a review. But, this is not enough. The methodology used to construct like school comparisons was developed in secret and without public consultation. It has proved a failure.
“ACARA now should apply the principle of transparency to its own operations and subject its methodology to an open and independent public review.”