NT indigenous topping the class: More rubbish education data from ABS

This article NT indigenous topping the class | The Australian notes that ‘the greatest advance in education in the past five years has been among Aborigines in the Northern Territory, with a 69.4 per cent increase in the number of indigenous students completing Year 12.”

This is yet another example of the crazy conclusions we arrive at with poorly thought through data.  Now this data comes from the Census so it must be  the MOST ACCURATE right?  After all it is based on a head-count of everyone on Australia.  But  it is misleading.  Surely the 69.4 per cent should alert us to the fact that something is not right.

If only one person completed in year 12 then just two people would be 100 per cent increase.  But if we were trying to convey the actual meaning of this pretty meagre progress wouldn’t  we say – ‘in the five year period between the census taking the figures on year 12 completion remain dismal – moving from  1 person to 2 persons. The figure we really need is either the raw numbers of Indigenous Yr 12 completers or the per centage of 17 and or 18 year  old Indigneous  yong people who had completed year 12.

And of course we should be able to calculate that the 2006 figure is very low because,  if even 60 per cent of  say 3,000 Indigenous young people completed yr 12 in 2006, a 69 per cent increase would, take it to over 100 per cent .  So we do know this increase it is based on a low starting base but how low?? We have no idea.

We also don’t know how many of the increased completers are in remote or very remote contexts.  if the figures were low enough it would be possible to get this increase with nil increases in remote and very remote australia.

And finally, we need to be cautious about assuming that retention to  yr 12 has any real meaning in terms of the extent to which Indigenous young people beneft from schooling.  There is extensive anecdotal evidence that many  of the small numbers of students in remote and very remote communities who stay on till the end of year 12 still cannot read to Year 3 NAPLAN standard.  Unfortunately, year 12 completion is a very poor proxy for “benefiting from schooling”.

But the real idiocy of this kind of reporting is that we should not have to stuff around with head count surveys every five years to get a sense of  how we are progressing  in remote/very remote Australia – trying to read meaning into data just because we have it.

In fact the NT Department of Education has excellent administrative data and as Nigel Scullion points out in this article the next “Close the Gap” Report is due in February 2013.

However  this report will rely on year 12 retention data and this does not tell us much at all, except that we urgently need to negotiate a more useful measure for the extent to which Indigenous young people benefit from schooling.

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