Editorial: Publish league tables

Last updated 09:52 21/06/2012

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OPINION: There is a tinge of alarmism, even something slightly hysterical, in the opposition of the education establishment to the publication of the performance of primary schools as measured by national standards.

Unions, teachers and principals have been united for some time in trying to have such information withheld from public scrutiny.

They had even persuaded the previous minister of education, Anne Tolley, that it would be a good idea to devote scarce ministry resources to making the information as difficult to obtain and interpret as possible to deter the news media from trying to make use of it.

Thankfully, nothing appears to have come of that misguided notion and this week the Prime Minister, John Key, suggested that the information should be freely available. That is obviously the right approach.

The educationists' objections to the release of the information can be seen as part of the campaign against national standards on literacy and numeracy. The standards, they say, are not a robust measure even of the subjects they purport to assess.

They are also too narrowly focused, they say, on only a small part of what schools do, do not measure the value of what schools supply to their pupils, particularly to those from poorer backgrounds, and will lead to a variety of tricks and stratagems designed to make a school look good in the statistics.

Publishing statistics on national standards, according to this line, will also lead to the construction of "league tables" of schools which parents will misuse in deciding where to send their children.

Much of this is true, but it is beside the point. In particular, the arguments assume in a somewhat patronising way that parents are not well aware of the shortcomings of national standards, the measurement of them and especially of the value, or otherwise, of any league tables constructed from them.

Parents already take into account a multitude of factors when weighing up the value of a school, including the many things schools offer in addition to the teaching of literacy and numeracy.

Such judgments add up to an informal, widely known, rough and ready league table. Any league table constructed from national standards statistics will simply be added to the mix of information, much of it much more reliable, that parents and others can use to judge a school.

It has also been suggested that league tables will induce schools to try to exclude difficult, disadvantaged or disabled pupils for fear they will reduce their scores.

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It is hard to believe that this would occur on any large scale if for no other reason than that it would be highly unprofessional behaviour within a calling that prides itself on its professionalism.

The answer to all the argument over national standards information is not to try to suppress it, but rather to release it along with as much other information as possible to try to give an accurate assessment of schools' performance on which parents can safely rely.

Information about secondary schools' National Certificate of Educational Achievement performance has been made public and the media have made league tables of them for several years now without any serious adverse consequences.

There is no reason why statistics on national standards should be treated any differently.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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