Policy Analysis and Program Evaluation

Publication Date



Governments can no longer justify their performance in education in terms of inputs; that is, in terms of the amount of new money they have provided, or the number of new teachers they have employed, or the range of new computers they have installed. It has been observed that ‘today, educators need to show how they have transformed current and new dollars into student achievement results, or the argument that education needs more - or even the current level of - money will be unlikely to attract public or political support’. Output measures, particularly those related to student achievement, are the new bottom line in education. The emphasis on accountability through external testing is driven by the growing realisation that education is a major factor in economic development and the consequent understanding that it is the quality of education that is most important. Accountability for quality has been given a harder edge, often in the face of opposition from the education profession, through standardised tests of cognitive skills. The essay provides an overview of • The development of output measurement; • The extent to which such measures have been used in education systems to improve accountability; • Evidence of their effectiveness; and, • Implications for Australia. The essay argues that performance measures constitute a positive shift in education but they haven’t gone far enough. More work needs to be done in evaluating the programs that are meant to improve student performance. The programs that are designed for the most disadvantaged students often escape any systematic form of evaluation yet systems need to formally identify what actually works, and doesn’t work, in schools.