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Published by: joseph3128 on Oct 19, 2011
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01/05/2013

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The effectiveness of schools is sometimes distinguished from the

performance of their students at the end-point of an educational

cycle. The idea is that the achievement of students, and hence of

schools, is to be measured in terms of the extent to which students

have been educationally transformed. A school may achieve high

scores in exit examinations but (the students having achieved high

entry scores) may still not have transformed them to any great extent.

On the other hand, a school with low entry scores may have trans-

formed students considerably but may still end up with low exit

scores compared with national norms. It has created more ‘added

value’ than the first school.

Furthermore, factors for which a school is not directly responsible,

like the social class, poverty or ethnic grouping of the students, may

have a decisive effect on the ability of a school to transform them.

Any attempt to assess the effectiveness of schools, it is maintained,

needs to take account of these factors as well as the value added.

Some also maintain that one needs to assess the performance of a

school against its potential for achievement (Jesson and Mayston

1988). Agreement about the need to measure effectiveness has not

led either to agreement as to how it should be done or even whether

it can be done. The most popular approach seems to be multi-level

modelling (Goldstein 1987) which assumes that the data can be fitted

to a linear model. However, the approach assumes that there is a

certain amount of statistical error in the data which can only be

interpreted within certain bands of probability (confidence intervals).

The practical upshot is that effectiveness measures for most schools

show an overlap for the great majority, with a small distinguishable

number of high and low achieving schools (e.g. Gray and Wilcox

1995). The possibility of measurement is further compromised when

students change schools during the interval between the two mea-

surement points. All these considerations suggest that the statistical

measurement of school effectiveness is an inexact, controversial and

inaccessible science of little direct use to the public.

When researchers have tried to identify the factors underlying

effectiveness (e.g. Mortimore et al. 1988) they have often been

accused of pointing to the obvious or commonsensical (White

1997a). School effectiveness needs to be distinguished from school

improvement, which is an attempt to increase the effectiveness of

schools. School improvement based on effectiveness research is also

thought to be of limited value (Gray and Wilcox 1995). Nevertheless,

EFFECTIVENESS

67

the desire for accountability is likely to ensure that the search for

means of assessing effectiveness will continue. One possibility is

through the use ofinspection, which iswidely used in some countries,

such as the UK, or through close analysis of educational practices.

The focus then moves from outcomes to processes. One problem that

all approaches face is that it makes no sense to assess the effectiveness

of schools unless one is clear about what they are effective for. This

means that they must be assessed against their effectiveness in

achieving educational aims which must first be agreed upon.

Effectiveness methodology has had a great influence on govern-

ment policy in England, to the extent that schools are currently

provided with a software package for gauging whether, for any given

pupil, they are educating them effectively, given the background

characteristics of that pupil. One may accept that some schools get

their pupils to progress better than other schools with similar char-

acteristics, but still acknowledge that our present understanding of

why this is so is very limited. For example, some recent work sug-

gests that one needs fine-grained descriptions of neighbourhoods in

order to obtain an accurate picture of the constraints under which

schools operate, descriptions which are far more detailed than any-

thing currently provided by government data (Butler and Webber

2007). If this is true, then making schools accountable through the

present measurement of added value may not be justifiable.

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