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Educational sexism in Queensland

By John Ridd - posted Friday, 26 April 2013

The very low standards of education in Queensland are well known: feeble performances in NAPLAN, the statement by the Australian Council for Educational Research ACER that standards have declined by ‘two years learning’ and woeful performances on Trends in International Maths and Science TIMSS should convince most people. For those few who do not accept that fact I suggest that they download and read the research document by the Australian Council of Educational Research entitled ‘A shared challenge’ (ACER 2009). For an easier read I suggest my Through measurement to knowledge.

A further issue is the commonly heard accusation that the assessment system favours girls over boys. If that accusation were to be proven then immediate and drastic remedial action would have to be taken by Parliament to remedy what would be illegal, institutionalised sex discrimination.

The following analysis of Year 12 Overall Position OP compared with results on the Queensland Core Skills Test QCST data demonstrates an anti-male bias in an objective way.


Throughout Years 11 and 12 the students perform various ‘tasks’ set within each school. Those tasks may be formal exams (very rare or non-existent in some subjects), or assignments or, in the case of the sciences, tasks called ‘Extended Experimental Investigations’ and ‘Extended Response Tasks’. Each task is awarded a letter or a number of letters A,B,C,D or E;. Numbers are not used.  At the end of Year 12 each school, for each subject, examines the results for each student and arrives at a set of final results, again given as a letter.

However a result from a ‘hard’ subject taken by a strong group of students, Maths B for example, cannot be compared directly with a result from a subject taken by predominately weak students, Maths A for example. Being in the middle of a strong group is probably as good as or better than being nearly top of a weak group.  Bear in mind that OP stands for Overall Position, it is a dog eat dog affair so the strength of the opposing dogs really matters. The problem of different group strengths is solved by (a) the setting of the QCST, the Core Skills Test which has to be taken by all students who wish to be awarded an OP; (b)a set of statistical analyses.

No analysis is possible using letters, numbers must be used. When all of the assessment is completed (using only letters) the school awards each student, for each subject, a single numerical ‘result’. That number can be seen as a performance indicator and is the number used in the OP calculation. The QCST results are also numerical. It is now possible to standardise each result for each student and hence produce a rank order of all the students over the State. The highest performers get an OP1, then OP2 and so on down to OP 25. OP results are crucial because they determine what courses each student can take at each university. If a course at some university or another can fill all the available places for some course with students with an OP of 5 or better then if a student has an OP 6 she/he cannot enter. Getting the OP right is crucial so systematic bias would be appalling.

I approve of the scaling system using the QCST; the methodology is sound and robust. But, and it is a big But – what if the school results are wrong in some way? GIGO, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

The QCST and its application cannot alter the rank order of results in a subject. If Josephine beats Joseph by getting a higher performance indicator number from the school then after scaling against the QCST she will still beat him but the ‘gap’ may have got bigger or smaller. She will get a better OP than Joseph irrespective of their individual performance on the QCST because that only provides data on Josephine and Joseph’s class, not individual performance.

The QCST is stated by the Queensland Studies Authority, the QSA, to be ‘An achievement test’ and ‘Grounded in the Queensland Senior Curriculum’. I intend to compare QCST results with OP results for females/males. The QCST results, although numerical, are given to the students in the usual A,B,C,D and E structure.


Firstly for 2012: QCST results were, as a number and percentage:


































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About the Author

John Ridd taught and lectured in maths and physics in UK, Nigeria and Queensland. He co-authored a series of maths textbooks and after retirement worked for and was awarded a PhD, the topic being 'participation in rigorous maths and science.'

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