Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Measuring the immeasurable

A report to be released today by the Council for the Australian Federation commits state governments to reporting school performance. This follows initiatives by the federal government to withhold funding to the states unless a standard reporting format was applied across the board.

It’s interesting to surmise on the reasons for this fairly sudden interest in reporting.

I would guess that it's caused by one significant political factor, and a few others that actually relate to education.

Governments at all levels have become increasingly aware that education is a hot-button issue. It always has been, of course, but it’s only recently that the media has cottoned on to the idea that they can sell lots of newspapers by publishing league tables comparing school results. The pollies have fairly belatedly understood that supporting this gross over-simplification of the issue can score brownie points from a nervous public with a dismal understanding of the relationship between schools, teachers, socio-economic status and results.

The educational reasons are that the sector itself now has a better capacity than ever before to collect and analyse data, and academics seem more prepared to do so.

The result of this obsession with reporting has made little or no difference to improving standards.

What it has done has made school systems and teachers turn themselves inside out trying to come up with strategies that satisfy the increasing demands for “transparency” in reporting.

I’m most familiar with the special school sector In the case of many parents of students in special schools, they found themselves with two reports – one (completely irrelevant, and adding to any grief that might already be suffering) comparing their child with the “normal” population, and one comparing their child’s results with specific agreed-upon goals.

I’m sure the gratitude of these parents towards Julie Bishop (who was the federal minister responsible) knows no bounds.

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted" - Albert Einstein

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