Peter Garrett misled us about literacy statistics – you wouldn’t read about it …

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Peter Garrett misled us about literacy statistics – you wouldn’t read about it …

EXCLUSIVE by Katherine Danks and Bruce McDougall
The Daily Telegraph
April 04, 2013 12:00AM

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Peter Garrett

Minister for Schools Education Peter Garrett reacts during Question Time / Pic: Ray Strange Source: The Daily Telegraph

SCHOOLS Education Minister Peter Garrett has exaggerated low literacy levels among Australian students by claiming 30 per cent of pupils entering high school “can’t read or write properly”.

Investigations by The Daily Telegraph have revealed that Mr Garrett is using 1996 assessment data of students in years 3 and 5 to justify increased federal funding in the state school systems.

The statements, made as the government ramped up its discussion about a Gonski funding deal, provide a misleading picture about the achievement level of students entering secondary schools in 2013.

Speaking on ABC’s Lateline on February 25, Mr Garrett said: “A lot of people watching this wouldn’t know that the Australian Council of Educational Research has said to us around 30 per cent of the young people who are going into high school can’t read or write properly. That’s the level of challenge we have, why our education decline is there, and that’s why we need a national plan for school improvement.”Mr Garrett made the same claim in an interview on SkyNews the same day.

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Inquiries by The Daily Telegraph failed to turn up any contemporary data showing almost one-third of students “going into high school can’t read or write properly”.

Mr Garrett’s spokeswoman said the statistics, provided to the minister by the department, were based on the Literacy Standards in Australia report, released in 1997.

When asked if it was misleading to use the old report, Mr Garrett’s spokeswoman said “we were not informed it was outdated”.

“The fact still remains that thousands of Australian school students are struggling with literacy,” she said. “This is clear in NAPLAN results, the recent PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) results, and the past decade of decline in international PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests.”

The controversial 1997 report, commissioned by former Liberal education minister David Kemp and prepared by Australian Council for Educational Research, concluded that 73 per cent of year 3 students and 71 per cent of year 5 students met performance standards in reading and writing. It prompted NSW, Victorian, Queensland and Tasmanian ministers at the time to release a joint statement attacking Dr Kemp for “creating a crisis of public confidence in the nation’s schools” and strongly criticising the use of draft benchmarks still under development at that time.

Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron yesterday said more recent data such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011 and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2011 “would present a more accurate picture”.

The PIRLS report indicates that 24 per cent of year 4 students were below the intermediate benchmark, the minimum proficiency standard, and the TIMSS study concluded our performance in maths and science had largely stagnated over the past 16 years.

According to the latest NAPLAN results, 93.5 per cent of year 3 students across Australia performed above the minimum national standard in reading and 93 per cent in grammar and punctuation. In year 5, 91.8 per cent were above the MNS in reading and 90.4 per cent in grammar and punctuation.

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