School ranking season begins

By Greg Whitby, 5 September 2018

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

We are heading into what I refer to as the ‘ranking season’ beginning with the release of NAPLAN results in the next few weeks. In mid-December, there are the HSC results followed up in the media with the top 100 performing high schools. Although I’m no fortune teller, I’m pretty confident of naming most of the top 10 schools in that list because not much has changed over the last decade.

If anything underscores the problems of publishing this kind of data, it is the fact that parents use this information to make decisions about which school is the best one for their son or daughter. I’ve had parents show me their top 3 school list based on NAPLAN and HSC results with little consideration of other factors such as location, cost, the school’s learning and pastoral care programs, extracurricular offerings etc.

Despite many attempts to explain that NAPLAN is not a school ranking tool, the HSC is not marked out of hundred and the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is not a measure of student intelligence, too many people still see these things as the only measure of success for a school. Unfortunately, using test scores as the only goal distorts the work of schools. Every child needs to leave school with high levels of literacy and numeracy but schools should also be about developing the whole child – physically, emotionally, intellectually and creatively.

As I’ve written many times before, NAPLAN data was designed to give teachers a greater understanding of how each child is progressing and which areas require more focus. The HSC, is a product of last century. It was designed to sort out the students were going to university and those who weren’t. Neither of these test instruments was ever meant to become a decision-making tool for parents.

How do we stop schools being reduced to a number on a list? To begin with, we need to find better ways of sharing information about student achievement with parents. Standardised test scores do not and should not define what a young person is capable or what they have learned at school. No matter what school a child attends, they should know, every day, that they are valued for who they. They should also be guaranteed the best learning opportunities the school can provide.

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we are happy to allow a spot on a graph or a place on a ranking table be representative of a child’s achievement? I know how I would answer. What about you?

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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