Secondary school principals across NSW have reacted with a mixture of anger and incredulity at the data released on the My School website.

The President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, Jim McAlpine, today said that many were angry that schools were compared using tests designed as diagnostic tools for improving the learning of individual students. He said this would inevitably compromise the integrity of the tests in relation to their intended purpose.

He said it was worrying that ACARA and the federal government have hijacked the tests and so strongly linked the results to the effectiveness of each school.

Mr McAlpine said that ACARA, particularly its chairman Professor Barry McGaw, knows very well that 70% of the differences between schools is explained by who they enrol. Parents and students also know that it is nonsense to compare schools without taking into account such things as how students are selected, the ethnic mix, gender balance, school location and size.

He challenged ACARA to explain to each school community how their school can be validly compared with the “statistically similar” schools, as the website suggests.

Mr McAlpine said that principals were expressing incredulity at the manner in which so-called statistically similar schools were grouped. “It is not just the more absurd combinations, such as city high schools and rural primary schools, the groupings suggest that ACARA has decided to ignore the very real differences between schools”.

“Principals won’t hesitate to illustrate these issues in discussions and communications with parents.

“The credibility of the website, ACARA and the transparency agenda is seriously compromised. Principals are hardly likely to express confidence in such a flawed system.
Mr McAlpine said that concerns expressed by principals didn’t just relate to school comparisons. Principals could not believe that results of Year 7 tests, completed in most states by students after just three months in their new school, could be used to say anything meaningful about their school.

Mr McAlpine said that principals strongly support accountability but not by using measures which overwhelmingly reflected who was enrolled at the schools, rather than what the schools were achieving for the students in their care. He said that student test data can and should contribute to appraisal of schools but only in the context of professional and independent reviews of schools, not in quick, cheap and seriously flawed comparisons.

For further information phone Jim McAlpine, President of the NSWSPC. Phone 0411 106 267

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