It’s been a while since ACT schools topped the nation in NAPLAN, but a closer inspection of individual school test results shows the overwhelming majority of Canberra’s students are progressing at similar rates to their peers from similar backgrounds.
In 2020, the Australian Curriculum Reporting and Assessment Authority (ACARA) updated its My Schools website, dumping school-by-school comparisons to instead focus on how schools are progressing compared with similar students across Australia.
It’s now possible to compare students’ progress (year three to five, five to seven, or seven to nine results) with the progress of students from a similar background.
It also provides information about a school’s test participation rates.
This year, comparisons are being made between 2019 and 2021 results as NAPLAN was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Every student has an Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) which is based on factors such as family characteristics (parental education, parental non-school education and occupation) and school (location and socio-economic background of the students it serves).
An ICSEA value can also be calculated for a school, with the average value being 1000. A higher ICSEA – up to 1200 – means the school has a high socio-educational advantage.
A total of 136 schools in the Territory are listed on the My Schools website, but not all of these have data provided. Special schools, early childhood schools (K-2) and colleges are excluded.
In total, data is provided for 115 schools and the majority have ICSEA values above 1000.
An independent review by the Grattan Institute in 2018 found the ACT was the country’s worst-performing jurisdiction when social and economic advantage were taken into account.
But the recent NAPLAN data suggests this may not be true as most students progress between years three and five and seven and nine in reading, writing and numeracy ‘close to’ the performance of their peers.
One over-performing school was Orana Steiner School, where students achieved ‘well above’ the national average for progress between year three and year five in all three categories of reading, writing and numeracy.
However, the participation rate for Orana Steiner was well below the national average of 95 per cent. Only 73 per cent of Orana Steiner students participated in NAPLAN.
In the secondary years, the gap has widened and students’ progress between years seven and nine had moved close to the national average, rather than well above.
In numeracy, ACT students fall behind their peers.
The following secondary schools all recorded progress rates below that of their peers in numeracy when comparing progress from year seven to year nine results: University of Canberra High School Kaleen, Saint John Paul II College, Saint Francis Xavier College, Mount Stromlo High, Lyneham High School and Campbell High School.
Multiple primary schools also record student progress that was lower than their similar peers (comparison of year three to five results). These were Theodore, Saint Francis of Assisi, Palmerston, Mount Rogers, Maribyrnong Primary, Margeret Hendry, Holy Family, Gold Creek, Fraser, Amaroo, Weetangera, Majura, Hughes, Farrer, Charles Weston, Chapman Primary, Canberra Grammar, Aranda and Brindabella Christian School.
Bonython, Gowrie, Fadden, Taqwa School, Latham, Rosary Primary School and St Michael’s Primary School performed ‘well below’ their peers when comparing student progress between years three and five.
At the time the changes to the reporting of data were announced in 2020, many experts said it would allow for a fairer comparison and also help schools demonstrate how they were helping their students progress.
However, ACT Minister for Education Yvette Berry said it would lead to “flawed” data for the ACT as many parents in the ACT held public service jobs.
She’s repeatedly pushed for reform of the system which she said creates anxiety for students and teachers and can stigmatise lower-performing schools.
But the Opposition wants an independent review into the Territory’s education system instead.