League tables which rank schools based on raw test scores are bad for students, schools and education.
Naming and shaming schools that don't get high marks in the tests is devastating for those school communities and makes it much harder for students and teachers.
That is why teachers, parents and principals are calling for urgent action to stop the creation of league tables in Australia.
We need the Federal Government to act before every schools' results in national tests are made public on a new website at the end of 2009.
That information is not protected and media organisations looking to make a profit will be able to take the test results and create league tables in which schools are named and shamed.
League Tables - What they wont tell you
Don’t Improve the Quality of Education
- In 2006 US academic Jaekyung Lee published a report on No Child Left Behind under the auspices of the prestigious Harvard University Civil Rights Project. Its conclusions are clear: “This report concludes that neither a significant rise in achievement, nor closure of the racial achievement gap is being achieved.”
- 2008 OECD report on school reporting found that “the consequences for the individual school are often negative”, “the construction of league tables favours schools that are already advantaged” and “most head teachers disapproved of the great competitive pressure open enrolment and league tables had produced, and considered the strong market orientation as educational misconceived, even harmful”. The paper also describes the vicious cycle forced on schools serving disadvantaged communities of “...bad reputation, worsening school atmosphere, decreasing identification of the pupils with their school, decreasing number of pupils, reduction of resources, decreasing job satisfaction and motivation among staff, lack of applications of well-qualified teachers for this school, worse quality of lessons, decreasing pupil achievement, worse results in the league tables.” (Improving School Leadership, OECD, August 2008)
- It is often assumed that increased test scores over time indicate that students’ learning has increased. However, it has been convincingly demonstrated “that these increases are often due to a combination of teachers “teaching to the tests” and students becoming familiar with the tests”. (Assessment Reform Group 2006; Koretz 1988; Linn 2000, 2001; Shepard 2000; Wiliam 2008b).
- Finland, the highest performing country in the PISA survey does not have standardised testing, public reporting of data, blame-based accountability systems, but cooperative structures of improvement that encourage schools to work together rather than compete.
Misleading Information and Not Useful for Parents
- Australian research found reporting individual school results as a measure of school quality, whether raw or value added, is unreliable, misleading, and damaging to schools and the quality of education they deliver. The use of exam and test scores to judge schools publicly is not useful either as a device to assist parents in choosing a school or as a form of public accountability. (ACT Government School Education Council Report School Performance Information 2004).
- British researchers found that that even in value-added form league tables were worthless because only a few schools at the top and bottom end were statistically distinguishable. Only a very small number of schools can be distinguished with any reliability as better than average. (George Leckie and Professor Harvey Goldstein Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, 172)
- While standardised tests are designed to improve teaching and learning the evidence from the US and Britain is that the tests have “profoundly negative effects on teaching and learning” the data they provide is “not capable of informing policy decisions in meaningful ways”. (Queensland Studies Authority draft discussion paper Student Assessment Regimes 7/09)
Widens Inequity Doesn’t Address it
- Consistent evidence of poor performance can result in long-lasting loss of confidence (Stiggins 2009). Furthermore, repeated practice tests reinforce the low self-image of the lower-achieving students, ensuring that the gap between their achievements and those of higher-achieving students widens (Assessment Reform Group 2006; Harlen & Deakin Crick 2002).
- Full-cohort testing often reduces the self-esteem of lower-achieving students and makes it harder to convince lower-achieving students that they can succeed in other tasks (Assessment Reform Group 2002; Griffin & Heidorn 1996; Harlen & Deakin Crick 2002).
- Peter Mortimore: “Trying to even up the life chances for the disadvantaged is the greatest challenge for education systems. The available evidence, however, does not support the view that it can be met through the transparency of report cards or league tables or through unfettered choice. These tools simply help the advantaged to make even more strategic choices.” (Former director of the Institute of Education, University of London)
- University of Michigan education professor Scott Paris: ``There are lessons about the risks of damage to the students' motivation, damage to the teachers' integrity . . . when too much value is placed on these high-stakes tests,'' he said. Prof Paris said Singapore's ``rigid'' curriculum resulted in good test scores but low self-esteem among students and repeated testing of students and teachers caused many US students to lose motivation and become cynical. ``They often give less effort and are more prone to cheating and taking short-cuts'' (Hobart Mercury 12/7/09)
Limits Students’ Learning
- Standardised tests encourage methods of teaching that promote shallow and superficial learning rather than deep conceptual understanding and the kinds of complex knowledge and skills needed in modern, information-based societies (Assessment Reform Group 2006; Shepard 2000, 2008; Pellegrino, Chudowsky & Glaser 2001).
- In order to secure higher test results for their students, teachers “teach to the test” and train students to pass the test, with consequent narrowing of the curriculum to what is tested and what can be tested. Untested subjects such as science, history, social studies, languages, arts and music, physical education and health receive much less time. (Harlen & Deakin Crick 2002; Herman, Baker & Linn 2006; Jennings & Rentner 2006; Koretz 1988; Linn 1998, 2000; Popham 2001; Shepard, 2008)
- Standardised tests rarely provide information that teachers can use to improve their teaching and student learning (Pellegrino, Chudowsky & Glaser 2001)
- Ken Boston: “The government’s approach to the key stage tests has sucked the oxygen from the classrooms of primary schools. It is not the tests themselves so much as the high stakes attached to them, the archaic methods of delivery and marking and the multitude of invalid uses to which the results are put. In all but those schools principled enough to resist the pressure on them, the primary school curriculum has become a dry husk. The teaching program focuses on what is to be tested and on practicsing for the tests, because the future of the school (not that of your son or daughter) is dependent upon the result.”
Will Turn People Off Teaching
- Brian Caldwell: ''We could do grave harm to our education profession. Who wants to work in schools where there is an oppressive regime of invalid public reporting of school performance and where curriculum priorities are distorted with excessive amounts of time spent on practising for tests?” (Canberra Times 28/5/09)
Already Affecting the Quality of Education in Australia
- WA schools are pushing many Year 12 students to choose easier subjects so they can avoid exams and schools can potentially lift their ranking on so-called league tables, an analysis of new enrolment figures reveals. (West Australian 14/07/09).
- Last April, the head of the Victorian Department of Education, Peter Dawkins, sent a memo to all principals suggesting more time be spent on preparing students for the National Assessment Programme for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests so as to improve Victoria’s results. “… there are still too many students at or below the minimum benchmark. We need to work together to reduce these numbers and achieve high numbers in the top performance categories. Accordingly, this year, our objective should be to improve on the 2008 results." (The Age, 12/4/09)
- Ballarat High School principal Paul Rose said Education Department officials had urged schools to spend a lot of time making sure students were familiar with the types of questions they would be asked on the day. "The message is: 'this is something you will take seriously, and you will do a much better job to shine in these tests'," Mr Rose said. (The Age, 12/4/09)
Negative Impacts on Australian School Communities
- Melbourne principal Peter Hendrickson (secondary college Melton) on being ranked one of the lowest in the state by the Herald Sun: "Being listed like that really destroys the confidence of the kids, the teachers and the parents. We had to go to a great deal of trouble to explain we were being judged simply on one measure, and it wasn't a true measure of the quality of the education we were providing. I think we had a slight decrease in enrolments, but because we worked very hard to counteract the information, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. But the community was devastated." (The Age, June 1, 2009)
- Principal of the Mount Druitt campus of Chifley College Cathy Anderson: "No community needs to go through the hurt and the anger that I came into," Her desire to ensure no other school is similarly humiliated is stronger for the experience. "I am opposed to league tables. I am opposed to it not just for Mount Druitt but for Killara. Our community does feel that they were devastated and they were stigmatised." (SMH 11/7/09)
Need to Personalise Education Not Standardise It
- Sir Ken Robinson, the eminent international expert on innovation and creativity: Education doesn’t need to be reformed – it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardise education but to personalise it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions (Robinson, 2009, p. 238).
Pollies Say they Oppose League Tables But Won’t Stop Them
- Julia Gillard: “I want to emphasize that these will not lead to the creation of dumb league tables that tell us little but to smart reports that show us how well each school is meeting agreed standards compared to schools with similar enrolments and challenges.” ( ISCA Parliamentary Forum, 1 September 2008)
- Julia Gillard: “I understand some of your concerns about the misuse of school performance data. I understand that league tables based on raw test scores can create a misleading picture and make the jobs of principals and teachers that much harder. We are working with State and Territory Education Ministers to ensure that the side effects of a new transparency framework are not negative ones.”( Speech to Public Education Forum March 27, 2009)
- NSW Education Minister Verity Firth: “The league table concept is one that labels schools as either winners or losers. It is unfair, damaging, hurtful, anti-educational and not in the public interest.” (Speech to NSW Parliament 18/6/09)
- Barry OFarrell: ``No educational expert believes that crude, simplistic league tables benefit anyone.'' (Australian 11/7/09)
- Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett, claimed last October that publishing individual school results “is not about ranking schools or creating league tables” [Media Release, 31 October 2008]. Yet, this is precisely what has happened only six months after his assurance was given.
- Rod Welford, Queensland Education Minister until recently, said last year that the Queensland Government unequivocally rejected league tables because they are “misleading and deceptive” [The Australian, 13 May 2008]. Yet, the Courier-Mail was able to draw on school results published on the Queensland Department of Education website for its league table
- ACT Education Minister, Andrew Barr, said weeks after the publication of league tables in Tasmania and Queensland that fears that the Federal Government’s program to publish school results would lead to school league tables were unfounded (ABC News, 29 May 2009)
- MCEETYA protocols say: “Governments will not publish simplistic league tables or rankings and will put in place strategies to manage the risk that third parties may seek to produce such tables or rankings.” (MCEETYA June 12, 2009)
Failing Schools Will Have Teachers Sacked and Be Closed
- Kevin Rudd: “Where despite best efforts, these schools are not lifting their performance, the Commonwealth expects education authorities to take serious action – such as replacing the school principal, replacing senior staff, reorganising the school or even merging that school with other more effective schools.” (National Press Club speech 27/8/08)
Even the Head of ACARA Agrees League Tables are Damaging
- Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority chair Barry McGaw: "It can be damaging if people make unfair comparisons (between schools).” (The Age 9/7/09) MCEETYA Removes Protection from Harm
- June 2009 MCEETYA meeting education ministers endorsed the new set of protocols (Principles and Protocols for Reporting on Schooling in Australia, June 2009) to inform the release of school performance data. One of the most significant points of difference in the new set of protocols is the omission of the following “ethical principle”: The avoidance of harm to members of the community: this could occur where the privacy of individuals would be compromised or where the reputation of an institution or group of people would be damaged through the publication of misleading information or stereotyping. By omitting this principle, education ministers have effectively conceded that there will be ‘harm’ to individuals and schools as a result of the creation and publication of league tables.
No Crisis in Literacy and Numeracy in Australia
- The Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) 1975-1998 shows literacy and numeracy levels have remained constant over the last thirty years and improved for some groups, despite the challenges of changing demographics. (Rotham. S. Achievement in Literacy and Numeracy by Aus 14 year olds 1975-1998)
- • International tests shows Australian students perform well above average in science,maths and reading and we are in the top 10 countries in the OECD (PISA 2006)
What Gillard Says Tables Will Look Like
- Julia Gillard: “You’ll then be able to compare that school to other schools in your local community which is important if you move there with a few kids you want to see how all the schools go to make a choice about where your child should go. But then you will be able to compare your local school to schools round the country that serve similar student populations. you can look at your local school and it’ll give you information about how the school goes in national tests, how it goes with year 12 retention, how it goes with attendance, how many staff they’ve got, what the qualifications of the staff are, all of that kind of information.” (2GB Interview 7/9/09)
What’s Missing from the Gillard Tables
- Howard Government research shows high levels of parental and community involvement in schools is strongly linked to improved student achievement, attendance and behaviour.
British Experience – Going Backwards
- The 2006 PISA (the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment) shows that average scores in reading, mathematics and science have seriously declined since 2000 and that equity in education remains low (PISA data)
- Director of the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment Professor Gordon Stanley said schools in Britain had been judged on their success in meeting test performance targets. "That has led to a lot of teaching to the test and schools focusing on kids who are close to achieving the targets on the view that they are going to be the easiest to improve.” (SMH, March 26, 2009)
- Former chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority Dr Ken Boston: “Initiative, enterprise, self-management and a thirst for learning are created by building, from the early primary years, respect for individual creativity and real achievement, through recognition and reward. Competitiveness, and striving for individual success, is at the heart of teaching and learning in initiative, planning, personal organisation, problem-solving and enterprise. None of these educational outcomes is achieved or enhanced by national testing or league tables. ”(Sunday Times April 26, 2009)
- The overall negative impact on education of full-cohort testing and the accountability regime in the UK has been recorded in the House of Commons’ Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Third Report to the United Kingdom Parliament in May 2008. The negative impacts recorded by the Select Committee are:
- teachers have been forced to “teach to the test”, thereby narrowing the educational experiences and attainments by students
- schools have pursued test results at the expense of a rounded education for children
- it is possible to improve test scores through mechanisms such as “teaching to the test”, narrowing the curriculum and concentrating effort and resources on borderline students
- these classroom practices have distorted the education of some students, leaving them unprepared for higher education and employment
- the improvement in test scores does not necessarily provide evidence of enhancement of underlying learning and understanding in pupils
- pupils may not retain or may not even possess in the first place, the skills which are supposedly evidenced by their test results
- many students have not received their entitlement to learning due to the demands of national full-cohort testing
- measurement of standards across the full curriculum is virtually impossible under a regime of full-cohort tests.
US Experience – No Increase in Achievement
- In 2006 US academic Jaekyung Lee published a report on NCLB under the auspices of the prestigious Harvard University Civil Rights Project. Its conclusions are clear: “This report concludes that neither a significant rise in achievement, nor closure of the racial achievement gap is being achieved.” (From: Nichols, S.L. and Berliner, D.C. (2007) Collateral Damage. How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard Education Press. Chapter 5):
- NCLB has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, marginalizing subjects not tested and narrowing the teaching of even core subjects to areas most specifically related to testing, to the exclusion of subjects such as history and art and aspects of English such as classroom discussions, creative writing and critical thinking.
- NCLB has led to the exclusion from the educational system many of the students it was purportedly designed to help. Students seen as low performing, who were previously seen as challenges schools were obliged to assist, are increasingly viewed as liabilities, and excluding such students from enrolling or encouraging them to leave is an effective way by which schools can meet their proscribed proficiency and improvement targets. Other tactics include suspending students during tests and farming them prematurely into special education streams.
- High school drop-out rates, particularly amongst minority students, have actually increased in years 11 and 12 since the introduction of NCLB.
- According to Nichols and Berliner, high academically achieving students are also adversely affected as schools concentrate upon what they call “bubble kids”; students just behind or on the cusp of achieving the benchmark levels
- Former Education Advisor to George Bush Senior Diane Ravitch: “We know from the National Assessment of Educational Progress that actual improvement has been very small over these past seven years, and in some cases, the rate of improvement has been less in these past seven years than in the years preceding the passage of NCLB. In the meantime, schools have become test obsessed in a way that is not conducive to good education. Many schools and districts and states have learned how to game the system, and they are producing higher scores (by lowering the passing mark—or cut score—on their tests) that do not represent genuine improvement in learning. The amount of test-preparation now going on in the schools has a tendency to inflate test scores and even to invalidate the tests.(interview learningmatters.tv 4/8/09)
- Ravitch again: “Certainly high test scores are better than low test scores, but that is not all that matters in education. What about science, the arts, history, literature, foreign languages? My hunch is that NCLB is doing nothing to reverse the dumbing down of our children and our society, and may even be accelerating it.” (interview learningmatters.tv 4/8/09)
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