I went to have a look at the schools in our area on the My School website that Julia Gillard has launched today. I figured I should at least have a squiz before I bitched loudly about it. (For non-Australian, or uninterested Australian readers, this is a Government sponsored website which reports basic stats and results on standardised tests for all schools in Australia - none of the other myriad things that go into making a school what it is are mentioned.)
The school my son goes to doesn't do NAPLAN tests, because it only goes to year 2, and they start in year 3. However, the school he will move on to next year is there. It's fine. It scored above the national average and about the same or better than its statistically similar cousins. Surprise, surprise. We live in a pretty good area, with an ever decreasing number of children who don't speak English at home (the last main migration wave in our area happened about 10-20 years ago, so we are very, very multicultural, but with an increasing majority of second generation or later migrants) and enough local schools for kids to be able to move about and find the environment that suits them.
But what about all the places where this is not the case? An enormous number of factors influence the marks that get spat out of a standardised test. The basic premise of this website which claims to provide "a new level of transparency and accountability to the Australian school system" is that the teachers and other staff of a school are accountable for the results the kids in that school get. And yes, to a point, they are. However, there are so many other factors.
Good schools attract good teachers, for one. Which is not to say there are no good teachers at schools which don't perform so well on standardised tests - there are some amazingly wonderful, dedicated teachers at troubled schools - but it's going to be a harder job, so many of our best teachers will opt for the easier schools to teach in.
Also, in areas where parents are poor, have little social support, a very low appreciation for education and therefore low attendance rates, no teacher, no matter how wonderful, will make those scores look wonderful. They may, however, inspire a love of learning in some kids who otherwise would never have found it. Surely that is as valuable, if not more so, than managing to teach my kid to read to the state sanctioned level.
There are also issues of culture, language background, focus on specific results rather than the whole educational experience. The list of reasons why this thing is stupid are long.
It's kinda hard to talk about this sort of stuff without sounding like you're blaming someone. As I'm writing this, I'm trying not blame the parents of kids who don't go to school, because that's not how I see it. It's more complicated than that. Which is why this one dimensional website is disgusting. It fails to recognise that kids are human beings who live surrounded by other human beings, and instead treats them as a product. I don't know where this thing will go, but I sent this email to Julia Gillard, just because I don't want to sit here silently and let it go on.
Dear Ms Gillard,And this doesn't even begin to address such things as school leavers having prospective employers looking up their schools and writing them off as a result of what they find. If this information must be collected it should be used only to see where extra funding, both in schools and in the community in general, should be directed.
I'd just like to register my disgust at publishing the kind of information available on the My School website. The number of ways it can be misused and misinterpreted is endless. I have school-age children, and they are fortunate enough to live in a socially advantaged area and all their local schools look fine on this one dimensional measuring stick. However, many other children are not so lucky. I can't see how this can do anything but further disadvantage already struggling schools.
The underlying premise is that these results say something meaningful about the staff and the way the school is run, which is dubious at best. The Government should be committed to maintaining a high standard everywhere, not vilifying schools which are already strained to breaking point.