What schools do with VCE results

Year 12 results were delivered to students a week ago and were received with the usual range of emotions. There is plenty of research around that demonstrates the factors that impact on student learning – family background is the strongest predictor of good outcomes (around 50%) and then you’re down to the impact of teachers followed by a range of other measures. In most cases students get Year 12 results which reflect their ability and effort. Some are advantaged by their circumstances, others are disadvantaged.

There is a lot of public focus on school performance measured by ATAR and other consolidated measures of achievement, which is generally fairly predictable. Schools that don’t seek to provide for a broad student cohort – select entry schools, those charging significant fees and those not delivering vocational programs – are always to going to produce ‘better’ results because they have engaged in self selection of their own student cohort. And then there’s the advantage of geography, but that’s another story.

The ATAR exists to help the universities rank and select students, although its relevance is fraying significantly under the weight of alternative entry schemes, equity targets and enrolment driven funding of the sector. The ATAR in turn drives the assessment regime within the VCE and although the need for reform is often touted there’s no apparent solution.

Students will have received their ATAR, considered their tertiary preferences (if that’s where they want to go) and are now waiting for offers. Some schools might be engaging in some publicity of results to boost their profiles, which seems to me contrary to the notion that the results belong to the student not the school.  Most schools, meanwhile, are engaging in fairly robust analysis of results. This is what we do at our school:

When results are released, we download them in spreadsheet form and in a matter of minutes we will have a list of student ATARs in numeric order. We will also have a list of VCAA study scores for every student for every subject and have these sorted these by subject, by student and by study score. Within a matter of minutes of results being released, therefore, we know who our dux is, how many study scores of 50 and above 40 we have and what our mean and median study scores are. This is the stuff that the media focuses on but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for us and for most schools.

Once results are released careers staff will be busy fielding questions from students and parents about results and what they mean for pathways to higher education and elsewhere. We are also starting our more detailed analysis of results, identifying patterns of achievement and areas for celebration and concern.

Three major pieces of analysis await early in new year. The VCAA releases information to schools which allows individual teachers to look at exam results and to analyse performance on each section and each individual question of the end of year exam. Teachers, individually and in teams, will be looking for data to inform their teaching for the next year. Where did students do well and where did they do worse than expected? Is there anything the teacher should do differently?

Secondly, the VCAA’s VCE Data Service also allows schools to compare student actual performance against expected performance and to make comparisons between different classes in the one school doing the same subject. This is a rich source of feedback for teachers and allows school leaders to identify areas for improvement as well.

Finally, our school commissions an independent analysis of VCE results. Having used the same source for over a decade we have sound baseline data to work from. Again, we are looking for actual performance against predicted performance and this data set allows us to look at individual students as well. How do the high, middle and low ability students perform in each class? Which teachers consistently lift students above expected levels? What can others learn from them?

All the data analysis above ultimately allows us to track how our school is performing against our strategic objectives and is used in the performance and development process for our teaching staff along with other data including student surveys and classroom observation. Our teachers at Year 12 level are awash in data and there is no excuse for not using it as feedback to inform and improve the way in which they do their work.

So while Year 12 results are all about the students and their results it’s also time for schools and teachers to engage in some pretty serious data analysis. Because unlike students, teachers will be back there doing it all again next year and we are always looking for ways to improve.

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