International education Professor warns against school league tables 


Visiting Durham University, Professor Peter Tymms has described school league tables as “carrots and sticks” in a recent Charles Darwin University (CDU) symposium about primary school student assessment.

“Carrots and rewards for those who are high in the leagues tables … and its sticks or public humiliation for those who are the bottom,” Professor Tymms said.

He went on to explain that student performance monitoring is not about teacher or school accountability, but that it should aim to “find problems in order to solve problems.”

The symposium, hosted by CDU’s School for Social and Policy Research (SSPR), was attended by about 40 people, including Darwin teachers and principals. The event also included a demonstration of a computer-based assessment tool that could improve knowledge about the literacy and numeracy skills of NT children as they enter school.

Used in 25 countries, the Performance Indicators in Primary Schools Baseline Assessment (PIPS BLA) is delivered to students via computers under one-to-one supervision by a teacher, and provides results within minutes of completion.

In partnership with Durham and Western Australia Universities and the NT Department of Education and Training, SSPR is testing new PIPS assessment items to make the tool more sensitive to the emergent literacy skills of the Territory’s non-reading students.

The research will also explore whether PIPS is appropriate for non-reading students in the middle primary school years and whether its computer-based delivery works for Indigenous students.

However, Dr Tymms, who is also the designer of PIPS, suggested that even with excellent student assessment records, the NT would struggle to improve student outcomes if it fails to address Indigenous health and deprivation.

“I think that if you add together hearing loss, deprivation … then you have a pretty good explanation for some of the variations we see between [Northern Territory] schools,” he said.

The PIPS research is conducted as part of the National Accelerated Literacy Program. Visit the NALP website to find out more: