League Tables Do Not Help Our Kids


League tables that purport to rank schools are crude, unnecessary and unreliable.

AEU ACT joins with the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations and other key ACT education stakeholders in condemning the publication by some media outlets of crude league tables.

Narrow and unreliable rankings do little to shed light on school performance but a lot to stigmatise those schools serving our most disadvantaged children. The Saturday Canberra Times advertised that its Monday edition will answer 'how your school rates', using NAPLAN tables to rank children in Year 3, 5, 7 and 9. This exercise is crude, unreliable and unnecessary. 

Ranking children on where they were born

There is consensus amongst educational researchers that student performance is strongly influenced by parental background, including factors like income and educational qualifications. Additionally, a student's performance is impacted by the socio-economic circumstances of their classmates. NAPLAN results heavily reflect these two influences. Publication of NAPLAN results in the form of crude league tables therefore largely serves to rank children on their social background. 

A narrow and reductive approach

NAPLAN tests aspects of literacy and numeracy, fundamental parts of any school curriculum but by no means all of it. NAPLAN does not cover science, history, music, the arts, languages and other key parts of the curriculum. Crude league tables give the unfortunate impression that they tell the whole story. They do not. 

A once-off snapshot

By virtue of being an external, standardised test, NAPLAN is unable to measure much of a student's capacity for higher-order thinking. There are seven general capabilities identified in the Australian Curriculum: 

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Information and communication technology (ICT) capability
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Personal and social capability
  • Ethical understanding
  • Intercultural understanding.

NAPLAN tests only two of these seven fundamental capabilities all Australian children should leave school with. It misses some of the highest goals of education. It was only designed for a diagnostic purpose and never to rank schools in the way some media outlets persist in doing. 

NAPLAN results often fluctuate wildly each year depending on the student cohort. It's a once-off test with considerably less significance than student reports informed by multiple assessment instruments.

Turning a valuable diagnostic tool into a high-stakes test 

The sad thing about media league tables is that they do impact on young students and the school communities they are a part of. The pressure of NAPLAN gets to 8 year olds. Teachers are incentivised to do more rote learning and repetitive test preparation, activity with minimal long-term value. Valuable parts of the curriculum not covered by NAPLAN are de-prioritised. 

The best way to find out about your school

The best way to find out about a school is to visit one: talk to the principal, the teachers and other parents. Go to an open night. Find out about the range of learning opportunities that exist beyond basic literacy and numeracy tests. Be careful about attaching too much importance to individual numbers, such as NAPLAN scores alone. They give some information, but are only a small part of the picture.

ACT public schools consistently deliver high-quality education to all our young people

It's important to remember ACT students perform at the highest levels internationally, and all of our schools are doing great things. The Canberra community can rely on a public education system that provides a great start in life for every child, no matter what their background is or which school they go to. 


Read more:

NAPLAN cheating cases on the rise
, Alison Caldwell, ABC News, 18 January 2012

Principals Say NAPLAN Has a Negative Impact on Schooling, Trevor Cobbold, Save Our Schools, June 19, 2013

A day in the life of NAPLAN, Trevor Cobbold, Save Our Schools, May 16, 2013

Keeping score: students studying by the book, Emma Macdonald, The Canberra Times, March 15, 2013

ACT tops regions withdrawing from NAPLAN, Emma Macdonald, The Canberra Times, November 23, 2012

Today's Tests Seen as Bar to Better Assessment, Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week, November 3, 2012

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