At last! Sound and sensible journalism on our schools

Much heartened by Anna Patty’s The problem with how we measure success in schools in today’s Sun-Herald. I urge you to read the whole thing. A taste:

,,,while public attention is focused on Naplan tests and school rankings reported on the MySchool website, the NSW Department of Education is quietly working on a more sophisticated measure of school success. The new measure will take into account university acceptance rates, school attendance and retention rates. The information will be shared with schools in coming years…

Cabramatta High, and many others like it, challenge the ideology embraced by everyone from George W. Bush to Julia Gillard — that the only way to measure success in school is the results from uniform national tests…

Nor do the Naplan results reflect the success of students who beat the odds, starting school speaking barely any English and getting into university a few years later. While some schools give up, strong school leaders at schools including Cabramatta and Holroyd High set high expectations for refugee and migrant children — who are rising to meet them. 

While their Naplan results are not the highest in the state and their year 12 students are not in the HSC top 100, these schools and others like them around Australia, are helping students achieve two years of academic growth in just one…

In the US, the stakes are even higher. Schools are closed on the strength of their performance in standardised tests like Naplan. What makes this remarkable is that some of the schools have significantly improved school attendance and retention rates while helping some migrant children, who start school speaking barely any English, get into tertiary education.

In remote Australia, getting disadvantaged students to simply attend school regularly and complete year 12 can be a huge achievement.

The everyday miracles that schools such as Cabramatta High perform in lifting student performance from a low base are lost when the spotlight is on schools with the top Naplan and HSC results.

Like Gemimah, year 12 student Ruqayah Abed, 18, experienced conflict. She hopes to study a combined arts-law degree so she can work for the United Nations.

In an English class discussing immigration and assimilation, Ruqayah told of how she and her family fled to Syria from war in Iraq. “I lost my dad when I was seven. He was kidnapped and we don’t know who kidnapped him,” she says, her voice faltering. “It has been 11 years since I last saw him. I am starting to forget all the memories I had of him. We don’t know if he is still alive or dead.”..

See also Election 2016: The schools that could swing the federal election.

At Rosemeadow Public School in Sydney’s south-west, 30 per cent of students start school without knowing how to hold a pencil. The same number struggle with speech impediments and some share their drawings with family members in a jail cell.

Over the past two years, increased funding has seen the school gain occupational and speech therapists to give struggling students basic skills, launch fishing trips to reach out to parents who would never otherwise step foot inside school gates and support staff with professional development, 60 per cent of whom are in their first years of teaching…

“Seventy per cent of our kids now aspire to go to university,” the principal of 17 years says from the school’s office in the marginal seat of Macarthur.

“Ten years ago, that figure wouldn’t have even been half that. That shows me that our community is changing, they are getting pathways now that supports their capacity to achieve.”

It is a story that is repeated across greater Sydney’s marginal seats where schools have enjoyed two years of needs-based funding boosts…

Chuffed to see the way Mr R now characterises his career and place of work: “Head Teacher English at a really great public high school in suburban Sydney, Australia.” Makes me feel old though. Back in 2006 I posted The Rabbit takes the plunge because at that time he was selecting his possible first placements. I found his current status on a site he devotes to reviewing Young Adult literature. It is very good, and distinctly Rabbit in tone:

Having just taught, for reasons of expediency, that horrid book Raw, and now having a much larger budget to spend on class sets of books, on the weekend I bought three newish YAF books that seemed like the sort I would have wanted to read, and now might like to teach. The first of these I have finished reading is Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I chose not to take as a bad omen the vague similarity of the author’s last name to Alibrandi, that other dreadful book that lived in the HSC English prescriptions for years. To the suggestion that students like Raw and Looking for Alibrandi, and at least these books get them reading, I say that they might like Red Bull for breakfast as well, but we shouldn’t supply it to them.

Update

Hat tip Maralyn Parker.  Read Rachel Wilson, Dump NAPLAN: here’s a better way to do our national literacy and numeracy testing.

We need to reform our national assessment program as a matter of urgency. Anyone who has stepped into a school in the lead up to NAPLAN knows the high stakes culture that has evolved around it. This happens often despite efforts by principals to keep it low key and efforts by teachers to protect their students from the stress involved.

The announcement by the Coalition that, if it wins the election, it will extend the national assessment program to our very young school children in Year 1 makes me believe change is now imperative.

I am not arguing against national assessment programs, I am saying there is a better way…

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