Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Education, Measurement and Performance - an aide memoire

An interesting radio discussion triggered a number of thoughts that I wanted to get down for later reflection.

A World Economic Forum report has apparently ranked Australia just number 29 in the world when it comes to science and maths education. This is apparently a bad performance but one needs to know the basis of the ranking to really comment.

A science teacher at a Queensland high school - public, non-selective with a feeder area including areas with significant disadvantage, around 40 in the final year science class - has apparently had no less that 13 students who have apparently subsequently achieved an award under the Australian Government's Eureka Science awards. This is an astonishing result by any standard.

Helen's reaction (Helen's old school has about the same number of final year science students but without this scale of later success) was that after the first few awards this might become self reinforcing through attraction of new students.

This seemed plausible but does not appear to be the case. The method of teaching itself as well as the enthusiasm of the individual teacher is obviously important. However, a key reason also appears to be the fact that the Queensland education system itself is more flexible - there were things here that I had not known - giving teachers greater freedom in the way they taught as compared to NSW with its HSC exam obsession.

All this comes back to what has become one of the most important things that I have been trying to explore - and not just in education - the way in which in standards based approaches what we measure affects, can distort, the thing we are trying to measure.

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