Data trumps opinion

Ideology, theory and tradition have long played leading roles in shaping education systems around the world, but data shows us how we stack up against each other and provides the benchmark from which to make real improvements.

In Sydney earlier this month, Professor Andreas Schleicher from the OECD outlined the importance of examining aggregate data; encompassing a range of factors including class-sizes, teacher quality, salaries, overall funding, parental encouragement, school autonomy and more.

Invited to speak about the implications of Australia being in the top five performing nations by 2025, Professor Schleicher reminded the audience that Australia is not the only country with such an ambition.

Rather than cast blame and accept underperformance, Professor Schleicher's best advice is to take on responsibility for overcoming challenges.

Professor Schleicher suggested that Shanghai's recent improved performance in the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) tests might partly be attributed to its rapid economic development but another factor is possibly attitudinal.

Students in Shanghai more commonly relate success to effort, compared with American students who accredit it to talent. OECD data showed that Australian students are not as well-disciplined as other high-performing countries and report relatively high levels of noise and disorder in classrooms.

Evidence of what's working in diverse high-performing systems of Shanghai, Singapore and Finland, also provides support for Australia to improve ongoing professional support for teachers.  

Professor Schleicher says implementing the needs-based funding system recommended in the Gonski report will go a long way towards achieving more equity across Australia's education system. He also credits NAPLAN with helping improve early identification of struggling students.

NAPLAN provides data that is being used to inform practice and Professor Schleicher believes that the impact of NAPLAN will help to lift Australia's performance.  "Without data," says Professor Schleicher, "you are just another person with an opinion."

Professor Schleicher's presentation can be found on the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation website www.cese.nsw.gov.au.

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