Friday, 29 January 2010

There are lies, damned lies and MySchool

statistics - as put out by the Federal Government's new website. I hope nobody, least of all the schools, take these results too seriously.
Why? Out of curiosity I looked up some schools I know something about. There is one small non-government school not far from here. I would say it is one of the best schools in the district. The discipline is good. The children are busy, productive, creative and as happy as any group of kids can be. Ask them if they like school and you will get an enthusiastic "yes!" There is some excellent creative writing going on. They read a lot. The school expects them to know their number facts etc. The parents are, I gather, pretty happy about the school. Certainly they do plenty to support it.
Surprisingly, the school did not do very well on the MySchool site. It might be said it did rather badly. Why? The answer is simple. They have some 'slow learners'. There are several children in each year who will bring the results down. These kids are struggling, really struggling with school. They still like school. They are doing well, their personal best. Their parents are pleased with their results. The school is small enough and has enough volunteers that they are not holding other children back. They get a lot of individual help - from the volunteers. It is a great scheme. In the public school system it is unlikely that they would be getting the same amount of help. They might get some but not as much. It just could not be done. These kids are never going to do as well as the rest - but they have several kids with well below average ability who are learning to read when it might not have happened at all.
The head of the school flung his hands up in despair. All he and the school's council and parents have worked for has been lost in a mass of statistics. The school is actually doing extremely well.
There is no mention that, at the other end of the scale, two of the kids won secondary scholarships last year. No, it is just those tiny little red bars that says the school is doing substantially below average. It is not true of course but that is the view that is being portrayed to the outside world.
The head of the junior school of another nearby non-government school complained of exactly the same thing. They have one year with - some little red bars. The reason? Much the same. They have five girls they have taken in because the state system was unable to give them all that they required. The school is doing an amazing job. I would be happy to have a child there or at the other little school.
I would be happy enough having a child at two out of five local primary schools - going on the results in the MySchool site. In reality though I would prefer my child to be at the poorest performing of the five. That school has a much better library and a substantially better literacy programme. The discipline is better too. The 'best' school in the district is the one where there was a mini-riot in a classroom the other day. Two parents have moved their children from the school because of bullying.
As for the high schools. Well only year 9 is tested - and that gives no clues at all as to the actual standards achieved by the schools. It tells me nothing about what the school is really like.
All this tells me is how a bunch of kids performed on one day at a particular time - and it does not tell me if they wanted to do it. As one of the teachers pointed out to me, "Can you imagine a bunch of stroppy teenagers who think this is a waste of time even trying to do well?"
I think I'll give the government an "F" on this one.

9 comments:

Donna Hosie said...

I disagree to a large extent. School tables have been used in the UK for a number of years and are a tool to help parents decide where to send their kids. I've certainly used them in addition to viewing schools and asking for opinions.

The failure here seems to be the fact that children with special needs, or those requiring extra help, are taken into consideration when testing. In the UK, they aren't.

catdownunder said...

There are some other variables too - the UK version has been done under the National Curriculum. There is no National Curriculum here. Some of the kids in 'underperforming' schools were simply not taught that material.

One of the best state schools in Adelaide is supposed to be under-performing according to this.
I would like to see a National Curriculum for foundation work so that all kids have basic literacy and numeracy skills - test that if they must but do it against the individual child and not the school.

Rachel Fenton said...

I would like to see no testing whatsoever for primary school children.

Tony said...

I was watching a science-fiction programme called 'Torchwood' on ABC2 tonight, and a group of aliens were demanding that 10% of the Earth's children be handed over to them. The British cabinet were debating how to decide which 10% to sacrifice and settled on those from low socio-economic backgrounds, defined by those in the worst-performing schools. As one of the characters said, "What are school league tables for anyway?".

Shown in the UK in 2009 but in Australia today: someone at the ABC obviously has a sense of humour...

catdownunder said...

I think there needs to be some testing Rachel - so that teachers can pick up weaknesses - but the kids need to be tested against themselves not each other. We ought to be able to show kids they have made progress...
Ah yes Tony - what are school league tables for? The deluge of comments I had at a meeting yesterday just show most people know zilch about statistics. Perhaps it is just as well. As Donna says there is a problem here - the kids with special needs got included in the results. I suspect most year 3 children could explain why that does not work!

Donna Hosie said...

Tony, I was watching Torchwood last night as well and both my husband and I laughed at that reference. Very timely.

catdownunder said...

I told my father about this and he said that it sounded like an episode out of Yes Minister - and should be compulsory viewing for all pollies.

Tony said...

It was actually very entertaining and thought-provoking. The scenes where the Cabinet were persuading themselves that what they were doing (eliminating the future unemployed) was a good thing were utterly abhorent, yet scarily logical.

catdownunder said...

Yikes - it does make you wonder about future population control - no hope for the likes of me, a fact I find terrifying.