Briefing paper

Reporting and comparing school performances

6 May 2009

Nationally comparable data about school performances should be reported to the public, but should not be used to create league tables, according to this paper. 

Written by Geoff Masters, Glenn Rowley, John Ainley and Siek Toon Khoo, the paper was prepared for the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs to provide advice on national schools data collection and reporting for school evaluation, accountability and resource allocation.

Parents need a wide range of detailed information about schools’ outcomes so they can choose the right school for their children – but schools work to promote many different kinds of outcomes for their students. Simplified comparisons of schools, such as league tables, ignore this broader context by restricting the range of information that can be provided.  League tables also encourage ‘rank order’ interpretations that have been damaging to schools and students in the past, and focus attention on some aspects of schooling at the expense of other outcomes that are as important but not as easily measurable.

It is popular in some parts of the world to adjust data to fit ‘measures’ of school performance and to report these measures publicly in league tables – but there are very sound technical and educational reasons why school measures of this kind should not be used for public reporting and school comparisons.

Instead, ACER proposes provision of information in the form of school profiles or comparisons of ‘like’ schools. School profiles allow an almost limitless range of information to be presented, while still allowing schools to be sorted by factors such as geographic location, school fee structure or religious affiliation. If schools are to be compared, a ‘like-schools’ methodologies allow parents, the public and education systems to compare outcomes for schools in similar circumstances. 

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