Sunday, October 30, 2011

Measures of school performance disadvantage more able students

A recent action learning research project revealed that school performance measures tend to disadvantage our  more able students!!

How so? Well, most readers will be familiar with the idea that "Tell me how you will measure me and I will tell you how I will behave". This is the rationale for most performance management systems.

The dominant measure of school performance is the percentage of students achieving benchmarks (and other minimum expectations) according to NAPLAN (in Australia) and similar systemic standardised testing systems.

Investing in better provision for high achieving students will not (directly) increase the percentage of students achieving the benchmarks. Providing for one group of students competes with provision for other groups with different needs. Because of the way school performance is measured it makes sense for schools to give priority to enabling more students to achieve these benchmarks, but who is likely to miss out in this process?  Those students whose improved performance will not effect the percentage of students achieving the benchmarks, including our high achieving students!!

Since even young (e.g.,Year 3) high achieving students have already exceeded all existing benchmarks (e.g., Year 9 NAPLAN) it is easy to give a low priority to meeting their needs. And given their intellectual success it is easy to underestimate their other needs. For example the other major outcome from the action learning project is the degree to which provision for high achieving students should address their social and emotional needs in addition to providing intellectual challenges.

Addressing this issue will require more than new or additional policies.  It will require changing the dominant measures of school performance so that the measures are about making enabling provision for all students regardless of ability.