It’s time for a more serious discourse about what and how we measure school performance. The NSW SPC believes the focus on standardised testing such as NAPLAN and PISA rankings needs to be repositioned to consider broader definitions of school success. The NSW SPC President, Chris Presland, said investigating how other countries measure school success is crucial to this discussion.
“At the end of 2015 the Every Student Succeeds Act became law in the USA and this will be interesting to watch because part of the act requires states to incorporate non-academic factors, such as student engagement and school climate and safety, into their accountability systems. While it is important to recognise that the quality of measurements for these non-cognitive factors is still a developing area, this focus could provide a more nuanced understanding of school success which extends beyond traditional measures such as standardised test scores.”
Mr Presland also said that the consistent performance of the Finnish education system in PISA rankings highlights the need for a more holistic understanding of educational success and school performance.
“Finnish children have the lightest homework load of any industrialised nation and shorter school hours than many Australian children, however there is strong value placed on the idea of human capital and a broad understanding of student and school success. We see Finnish schools working to cultivate an environment of innovation whereby student success is about creativity, flexibility and the ability to apply knowledge across a variety of situations. Most importantly these strategies promote an educational environment which prepares young people for an economy where entrepreneurship and innovation are key measures of progress.”
While politicians suggest that it is evidence based best practice, rather than funding, that will see students achieve the best results, the NSW SPC maintains it is not an “either or” debate. Both are necessary. Equitable funding is intrinsically linked to international measures of educational success such as access and participation.
“As the Finnish educator and author Pasi Sahiberg explains, strong education performance in the Finnish context means more than high student academic achievement as measured by international comparative assessment studies. In Finland, measuring school success is also about the level of participation in and access to education and the even distribution of learning outcomes throughout different schools and learners”, Mr Presland said.
The evidence shows that what really makes a difference to the quality of education is the interaction between high quality teachers, engaged students and a flexible curriculum. Therefore, we need to move beyond seeing standardised test scores as the only means of quantifying the educational achievement of Australian students. The fact is that some of our most challenging school communities achieve extraordinary outcomes with their students, but these outcomes are rarely understood or publicly acknowledged by our politicians and general community.
Drawing on the experiences and ideas of our international education colleagues provides a potential starting point for beginning to redefine educational success as more than a NAPLAN score.
President, NSW Secondary Principals’ Council