100 education academics sign letter against league tables
[Attached briefing note below]
Over 100 education academics have signed a letter against primary school league tables based on National Standards
We are a group of New Zealand academics teaching and researching in universities. As a group we are very concerned about the proposed publication of ‘league tables’ of primary school performance based on National Standards, whether compiled by media organisations or by Government. We believe that National Standards achievement data and the available school and student level contextualising data are so clearly unsuitable for the purpose of comparing school performance that to purport to do so would be dishonest and irresponsible. We also believe, based on the experience of other countries, that the publication of league tables will be extremely damaging for New Zealand primary education. As academics we will condemn and disregard any published league table of primary school performance and we urge the New Zealand public to do likewise.
Current Signatories (names will continue to be added)
Emeritus Professor Raymond Adams, Massey University
Dr Vivienne Anderson, University of Otago
Judy Bailey, University of Waikato
Associate Professor Miles Barker, University of Waikato
Dr Roseanna Bourke, Victoria University of Wellington
Dr Jenny Boyack, Massey University
Professor Christopher Branson, University of Waikato
Trish Brooking, University of Otago
Associate Professor Gavin Brown, University of Auckland
Dr Mike Brown, University of Waikato
Dr Seth Brown, Massey University
Tracey Carlyon, University of Waikato
Dr Vicki Carpenter, University of Auckland
Professor James Chapman, Massey University
Sue Cheesman, University of Waikato
Jeanette Clarkin-Phillips, University of Waikato
Tracey-Lynne Cody, Massey University
Associate Professor Lindsey Conner, University of Canterbury
Dr Marian Court, Massey University
Dr Hamish Crocket, University of Waikato
Associate Professor Kathie Crocket, University of Waikato
Professor Niki Davis, University of Canterbury
Associate Professor Nesta Devine, AUT University
Dr Vijaya Dharan, Victoria University of Wellington
Dr Helen Dixon, University of Auckland
Judy Duncan, University of Auckland
Emeritus Professor Warwick Elley, University of Canterbury
Fiona Ellis, University of Otago
Dr Brian Finch, Massey University
Dr Katie Fitzpatrick, University of Auckland
Lester Flockton, University of Otago
Dr Margaret Franken, University of Waikato
Dr John Freeman-Moir, University of Canterbury
Associate Professor Alison Gilmore, University of Otago
Dr Barrie Gordon, Victoria University of Wellington
Dr Alexandra Gunn, University of Otago
Maggie Haggerty, Victoria University of Wellington
Tamsin Hanly, University of Auckland
Paul Hansen, Massey University
Dr Sally Hansen, Massey University
Emeritus Professor Richard Harker, Massey University
Dr Penny Haworth, Massey University
Michelle Hesketh, University of Auckland
Paul Heyward, University of Auckland
Associate Professor Mary Hill, University of Auckland
Robert Hoeberigs, University of Auckland
Jodie Hunter, Massey University
Philippa Hunter, University of Waikato
Dr Michael Irwin, Massey University
Jayne Jackson, Massey University
Andrew Jamieson, Massey University
Dr Joce Jesson, University of Auckland
Professor Alison Jones, University of Auckland
Dr Alison Kearney, Massey University
Janette Kelly, University of Waikato
Dr Joanna Kidman, Victoria University of Wellington
Ken Kilpin, Massey University
Judine Ladbrook, University of Auckland
Dr Darrell Latham, University of Otago
Dr Deidre Le Fevre, University of Auckland
Dr Frances Langdon, University of Auckland
Debora Lee, University of Auckland
Associate Professor Kathleen Liberty, University of Canterbury
Dr Kirsten Locke, University of Auckland
Professor Terry Locke, University of Waikato
Dr Judith Loveridge, Victoria University of Wellington
Dr Jude MacArthur, Massey University
Dr Sasha Matthewman, University of Auckland
Professor Helen May, University of Otago
Professor Stephen May, University of Auckland
John McCaffery, University of Auckland
Dr Alyson McGee, Massey University
Dr Mandia Mentis, Massey University
Frauke Meyer, University of Auckland
Louise Milne, University of Waikato
Professor Linda Mitchell, University of Waikato
Associate Professor Missy Morton, University of Canterbury
Associate Professor Carol Mutch, University of Auckland
Dr Karen Nairn, University of Otago
Wendy Neilson, University of Waikato
Associate Professor Peter O’Connor, University of Auckland
Anne-Marie O’Neill, Massey University
Professor John O’Neill, Massey University
Dr Kirsten Petrie, University of Waikato
Dr Peter Rawlins, Massey University
Dr Karen Rhodes, Massey University
Associate Professor Tracy Riley, Massey University
Professor Peter Roberts, University of Canterbury
Nigel Robertson, University of Waikato
Dr Susan Sandretto, University of Otago
Alan Scott, University of Canterbury
Cathy Short, University of Waikato
Associate Professor Mary Simpson, University of Otago
Anne Sinclair, University of Auckland
Dr David Small, University of Canterbury
Jill Stephenson, University of Auckland
Gary Tenbeth, University of Auckland
Dr Kate Thornton, Victoria University of Wellington
Professor Martin Thrupp, University of Waikato
Dr Trevor Thwaites, University of Auckland
Lynley Tulloch, University of Waikato
Distinguished Professor William Tunmer, Massey University
Dr Bill Ussher, University of Waikato
Dr Jannie van Hees, University of Auckland
Professor Margaret Walshaw, Massey University
Dr Kama Weir, Massey University
Dr Bronwyn Wood, Victoria University of Wellington
A further briefing note is attached.
MEDIA BRIEFING NOTE
LETTER FROM EDUCATION ACADEMICS AGAINST PRIMARY SCHOOL LEAGUE TABLES BASED ON NATIONAL STANDARDS
There are currently 107 signatories to this letter drawn from across the New Zealand universities that teach and research in education. Nearly a third are professors or associate professors. We will continue to gather signatories from university academics and will also invite signatories from staff in polytechnics and wananga who are teaching and researching in education.
PROBLEMS WITH THE PROPOSED ‘LEAGUE TABLES’ OF PRIMARY SCHOOL PERFORMANCE BASED ON NATIONAL STANDARDS
1. National Standards data are unsuitable for comparing schools.
2. The contextualising data are incomplete.
3. League tables are educationally harmful.
4. The political argument for league tables is weak.
1. National Standards data are unsuitable for comparing schools The performance of schools cannot meaningfully be compared with each other unless it can be demonstrated that assessment measures, processes and moderation have been used consistently across schools. National Standards (NS) are not nationally moderated and rely on processes and teacher judgments that will certainly be inconsistent across schools.
The first year report of the RAINS research [http://www.nzei.org.nz/site/nzeite/files/reports/RAINS-Final-2012-03-01.pdf] led by Professor Martin Thrupp illustrates very different pathways into NS enactment in six case study schools. There is likely to be much greater variation over the 2,300 primary and intermediate schools nation– wide. The Ministry of Education is developing a ‘Progress and Consistency Tool’ that is intended over time to reduce variation of ‘overall teacher judgment’ between schools.
However, the tool cannot control variation in the processes used prior to entering the data online, nor the more subjective elements allowed for within the tool.
Many schools that are providing NS data to the Ministry include explanatory comments or withhold data related to particular sub-groups of students because the numbers are small and the children may be identifiable. Almost half of New Zealand primary schools have fewer than one hundred and fifty students, which means that a school’s reported NS achievement performance is likely to fluctuate widely from year to year for reasons that are entirely beyond the control of the school and its teachers. These important qualifications and caveats will not appear in league tables as they cannot reflect school level details.
National Standards measure numeracy and literacy achievement only. These are only part of the primary school curriculum and only a fraction of the knowledge, skills and attitudes that children learn at school.
2. The contextualising data are incomplete
Many elements of the school’s local community context affect teaching and learning processes and children’s achievement. These include socio-economic and other intake differences (such as ethnicity, student transience rates, the proportion of English language learners or children with special needs) and other school and area characteristics (local labour market, urban/rural location, popularity compared to surrounding schools).
There are also internal school contexts, such as past leadership or reputational issues, significant staffing changes or schools being damaged. In addition, certain student level contextual data (e.g. prior attainment, disposition to schooling and family support) are essential if comparisons of school performance are to be fair.
Overall it is very difficult to take full account of school contexts in a way that allows schools to be compared with each other fairly. The proxies used for community, school and student context in value-added analyses are simply not adequate to permit meaningful judgments about a school’s performance.
Many attempts at comparing school performance do not even try to use the best available statistical methodologies. New Zealand does not collect the necessary individual student and family level data. Instead the school decile rating is typically used as a proxy for all these contextual indicators. Yet there may be enormous differences between the contexts 3 of schools within deciles making decile rating completely inappropriate for contextualising school performance.
3. League tables are educationally harmful
The compilation and release of achievement data in league tables to enable comparison of schools has the potential to cause harm: to learners, teachers, schools and local communities.
We know from international experience of system-wide assessments that encouraging public comparisons of school performance leads directly and indirectly to behaviours that harm the education of the very groups of students that governments say they want to help.
These harmful behaviours include: ‘teaching to the test’ and ‘narrowing of the curriculum’; valuing of some students over others because of their ability to perform and to conform; prioritising the teaching and other support given to some students over others in order to maximize the numbers that ‘reach the standard’; and damaging effects on students’ anxiety levels and conceptions of themselves as learners – ‘I’ll be below standard’.
4. The political argument for league tables is weak
The argument that the Ministry of Education should release league tables in order to prevent the media doing so, does not address the problems that their effects will be damaging and the data used to compile the tables will be incomplete. Data release in league table form will consequently misinform rather than inform parent and community judgments about how well children are learning.
We do not know of any reliable research evidence that supports the government’s assertion that parents in New Zealand are ‘desperate’ for the release of league tables in order to be able to better judge the quality of their child’s school. In any event, parents already have other sources of information and methods available to make judgments about the quality of their child’s school and its provision for learning. There is no obvious information ‘gap’ that league tables would fill.
National Standards data are also said to be ‘official information’ and automatically subject to release to the media on request under the provisions of the Official Information Act (OIA). Consequently, it is claimed to be ‘in the public interest’ for NS league tables to be compiled and released. But, the public’s interests are diverse and often conflicting. Even if it could be demonstrated that a majority of the public supports league tables, the potential 4 benefits of release need to be weighed against the potential harms that ‘league tables’ may cause.
In particular, the moral principle of social justice demands that the situation of the most disadvantaged in our society should not be made worse through the release of official information. The intention of Section 9 of the OIA is clearly that a state organisation may only responsibly release official information when it can demonstrate that the potential for harm has been fully identified, assessed and mitigated.
Recently, the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s (ACRA) ‘My School’ website has been cited by the Minister of Education as an example of a responsible approach to compilation and release of achievement information, and one that the New Zealand Ministry of Education may seek to emulate.