Schools data: frequently asked questions

How to make sense of schools data covering VCE, VET and VCAL results and median study scores.

How to make sense of schools data covering VCE, VET and VCAL results and median study scores.

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I'm a little bewildered by the amount of information provided in today's supplement.  Do I need to know all of this?

This table provides an overview of the VCE/VCAL programs offered by Victorian Government, Catholic and Independent schools and adult providers. By scanning across the table, you can discover how many VCE studies are offered at a particular school, how many students are enrolled in the VCE at level 3-4 in each school and also how many students are enrolled in VCAL. 

There is information on the percentage of students in each school who have passed the VCE and the per cent of 40-plus study scores. There is a snapshot of the large scale of the VCE program across Victoria and how schools are faring in terms of pass rates, percentage of high study scores achieved, etc.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which is responsible for compiling the data, recognises that the information does not provide a complete picture of the achievements of each school and its students. The On Track data, which will be released in 2016 will add to the picture by documenting how students fared after leaving school.

The data will show how many students went straight into employment, and how many were enrolled in tertiary courses.  Taken together, On Track data and the table published here gives an insight into the successes and outcomes achieved by students going through the VCE and VCAL programs in Victorian schools.                

Couldn't the information presented here be summarised or condensed to make it easier to read?

It is important to provide the table in full and to include information both on the VCE programs offered by schools and VCAL programs. Secondary schools prepare their students for a range of pathways, and the information that we provide has to reflect this fact.  For some students, the key need is to successfully complete a VCE or a VCAL and then move into employment or consider other options. Others are intent on gaining a start in the Vocational Education and Training area, through the VET in Schools program.

All students want the best possible results for themselves, whatever their chosen pathway. The information in the table describes students' success in all these pursuits.  To focus on just one or two would fail to do justice to the diverse goals that schools help students to achieve.

Isn't this another way to 'rank' schools from 'high end' to 'low end'?

No, not at all. In fact, creating a rank of schools based on median study score medians or the percent of high achievers would not provide a statistically valid indicator of school performance. Such a rank would take no account of the academic profile of each school's students, or of the range of training or employment pathways taken by students in the school. 

Creating rankings of 'top schools' can be misleading, because no single measure can capture the range of successes that occur in different schools. Just as a high VCE study score is not the only measure of a students' worth, nor is the proportion of students with top study scores a measure of a schools' worth. The newspapers publishing this information understand this point, and will be publishing the data in full without any ranking.

Can I use the tables to find the best school?

Everybody values schools in different ways. Choosing the 'best' school is a subjective decision. If you're searching for a school for your son or daughter, ask yourself what is most important to you and your child. Maybe you would prefer a small school with a more intimate feel. Maybe a VET program is important to you. Your child might be more interested in completing VCAL or the International Baccalaureate.

Use the table to identify schools that might have the characteristics that you value most, but it is then critical to visit the school to obtain a more comprehensive view of the school. Talk to the Principal, and, if you can, to parents of children attending the school. Ask about the curriculum offered and the values upheld by the school.  Look at the On Track data on student destinations, which is published mid-year. Once you put it all together, you will have a much better understanding of how well the school might meet your child's needs.

What is the median and how is it derived? 

Study scores provide a broad measure of achievement in each study, relative to the rest of the students in the state.  An average performance earns a study score of 30, no matter what the study. Study scores between 30 and 40 are above average and study scores above 40 are exceptional.  Similarly, study scores between 20 and 30 are below average. Very few study scores below 20 are awarded.

The median study score has been chosen as the best indicator of the typical level of achievement in a school.  When all the study scores obtained by students in a school are ranked from highest to lowest, the one in the middle is the median.

At the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA),  we choose to present the median in preference to the more common average because it is unaffected by very high or very low scores.  

Very low study scores often occur when a student fails to submit work, or to attend an examination. Such events could have a substantial effect on the average score, even to the extent of making it a poor reflection of what students in the school are actually achieving.  The median, being anchored to the middle of the group, remains a good representation of typical achievement in the school.

The median, like any other statistic, represents the group only within a margin of error.  For the data presented in this supplement, the band of uncertainty is typically one or two points in either direction.  Thus a median of 30 is likely to be accurate within one or two points and we might think of it as represented by a range from 28 to 32.  Such a school may or may not be different to another school's median study score which falls within that range.

In the interactive, what do all the separate sections include?

Number of VCE studies at unit 3-4 level taken up by students in 2015

The figure provided is the number of studies offered by the school. In some cases a school will put in place arrangements to allow their students to access studies not currently offered at their school. Details of such arrangements can be obtained from individual schools.

Number of VET certificates with 2015 enrolments

This reflects the range of choices available to students wishing to pursue studies in Vocational Education and Training (VET) within their VCE or VCAL programs. VET programs may be undertaken within the school or outside the school.

Availability of International Baccalaureate (Diploma)

The International Baccalaureate (Diploma) is an international senior secondary qualification. Students who undertake the IB Diploma are awarded an equivalent ATAR and are considered for tertiary selection in Victoria on a similar basis to VCE students. IB results are released in January.

Number of students enrolled in at least one VCE unit at level 3-4 in 2015

This figure reflects the size of the cohort undertaking studies at the highest level of VCE (units 3 and 4). It does not necessarily correspond to the size of the Year 12 enrolment in the school. Level 3-4 studies are designed to be undertaken in Year 12. However, the VCE provides flexibility that allows students to undertake some studies at this level before they reach Year 12.

Number of students enrolled in a VET certificate in 2015

This figure describes the number of students who have included at least one VET certificate (or a part thereof) in their VCE or VCAL program in 2015.

Number of students enrolled in VCAL in 2015

The number of students enrolled in the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning in 2015.

Percentage of VCE students applying for tertiary places

This figure is calculated from the number of students in 2015 that made a timely application for a tertiary course through VTAC, taken as a percentage of all those students eligible to do so.

Percentage of satisfactory VCE completions in 2015

Of those students eligible to complete the VCE in 2015, the percentage who did so.

Number of students awarded the VCE (Baccalaureate)

The number of students who have been awarded the Victorian Certificate of Education (Baccalaureate). This award recognises VCE students who have achieved a study score of at least 30 in English, Literature, English Language or at least 33 in English as an Additional Language, and have in total 5 or more study scores including a higher level Mathematics, and a Language.

Percentage of VET units of competency completed in 2015

Of those VET units of competency enrolled in 2015, the percentage completed.

Percentage of VCAL units completed in 2015

Of those VCAL units enrolled in 2015, the percentage completed.

Median VCE study score

VCE results are recorded in terms of study scores. Achievement is assessed on a scale of 0 to 50 and in all studies the average study score across the state is 30. The median study score is the middle score when all the study scores obtained by students of the school are ranked from highest to lowest; so it represents a 'typical' level of achievement in the school.

Percentage of study scores of 40 and over

A study score of 40 or above in any study represents exceptional performance (among the top nine per cent in the state). The percentage of such scores is an indication of the proportion of high achievers in each school.

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