Why WA's most talented public school students need a bigger push

Western Australia's highest achieving public school students must be better helped to reach their full potential, says the state’s education boss.

WA Education Department director general Lisa Rodgers said there were a number of children in the system failing to achieve the growth and progress they were capable of.

This needed to be addressed in order to ensure better results for students in the public education system.

"We’re seeing an increase in those kids that are at the lowest benchmarks and we’re seeing a drop in the kids at the highest benchmark," Ms Rogers said.

At the launch of the department’s new five-year strategic plan, Ms Rodgers said WA was “one of the best performing school systems in the country” and by taking a very nuanced approach in terms of understanding each individual student’s trajectory, the system would start to attend to all students' needs and "hopefully help them to learn more".

The strategic plan was released to WA principals this week, only days after Australian school students recorded their worst results in international tests.

For the first time, Australia failed to exceed the OECD average in maths, and the nation's results in reading and science has declined since Programme for International Student Assessment testing began in the early 2000s.

Ms Rodgers acknowledged a need to take the decline in PISA results “very seriously” but was mindful of controversial assessments used to compare Australia's performance to other jurisdictions.

“WA is one of the fastest-improving jurisdictions across Australia,” she said.

“We have made incredible progress in regards to NAPLAN, and ACT is the only jurisdiction that actually outperforms us in PISA.”

By having a very nuanced approach in terms of understanding each individual student’s trajectory we can start to attend to their needs and hopefully help them to learn more

Department of Education boss Lisa Rodgers

Ms Rogers said results showed WA wasn’t dropping as fast as other states over the last 10 years, noting a strong system should focus on individual results just as much as curriculum and peer ranking assessments.

“There are a number of kids in our system currently that are not making the growth and progress that they are capable of making,” she said.

“It’s important that we have assessments like NAPLAN, PISA and the like, it’s critically important that we do have these assessment systems that give us a bit of a temperature check in terms of our cohorts.
“But it’s my proposition that we need to make sure that we focus on every single child, so it’s every child, every classroom, every day because what we see is a drop in the number of high performing kids at the highest levels."

Ms Rodgers referred to the strategic plan as having a 'numbers, names and needs approach' where the system knew what data was saying about students’ learning, what their names were and understood what each individual student needed.

“It’s important to know as a mum how they are going according to the curriculum benchmarks, how they are going according to their peers but it’s also really important to know how they’re going compared to where they were last year or the year before,” she said.

Western Australian Secondary School Executives Association president Armando Giglia welcomed a more student focused strategic approach but said PISA was a “load of rubbish”.

“I don’t think the strategic plan will change too much at all really, you’re looking at a curriculum that is set in many ways,” he said.

He said NAPLAN and PISA testing was testing "for the sake of doing a test".

“They actually show nothing because they’re not set up or administered how they’re supposed to be to get the results you’re after in the first place.

“NAPLAN for example is supposed to give you a snapshot of where education is in the country but it’s used instead, especially in the media, as a ranking and it’s not set up for that and PISA is not administered uniformly across the world.”

Mr Giglia said what was needed was an education system where both sides of politics agreed to a long term plan over 10 years so it was not used as a “political football”.

“That’s how you get stability in education and if you have stability people can work things through and you get progression,” he said.

“Our system is doing a great job, our kids are doing very well but you compare that to a ranking, that isn’t right.

“To me education is a dynamic science, it’s always on the move so you’ve got to move with it.”

Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association president Ian Anderson said the new strategy focused on what mattered.

"That is continuing to build the capacity of principals and teachers to ensure that students in our government schools are given the best opportunities to learn," he said.

"The increased focus on support for schools is welcomed."


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