Making the grade: school report cards and league tables

20 Nov 2008

Jennifer Buckingham examines the school report cards scheme being considered by the Australian government and recommends a balanced approach to performance incentives for Australian schools.

The most controversial aspect of school report cards is the awarding of an overall letter grade of A, B, C, D or F to each school. In New York, under Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, schools that persistently receive failing grades face strong sanctions, including closure. Initial research indicates that schools given F and D grades have improved their performance substantially in the following year.

Since the implementation of Florida’s A+ Accountability Plan in 1999, student test scores have improved significantly, particularly those of minority students. This model combines accountability with parental choice, giving students in failing schools the option to attend a better-performing school.

'If school performance is to improve, there must be incentives for good performance and penalties for poor performance. It is also crucial to get the incentives right,' says the reports author, Jennifer Buckingham.

'The best approach is a combination of top-down and bottom-up accountability. Governments should set the standards by which parents and the public evaluate and judge schools. Parental choice is better than state sanctions'.

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