In countries where school league tables are published, they become a major parameter parents use to judge schools. However the test scores these tables are based on often reveal more about the socio-economic composition of the student body than the ability of the school to enhance student achievement. Research has shown that a school’s test results tend to improve as the number of poor disadvantaged students enrolled declines. Standardised test results tend to identify the schools with a more affluent catchment.
The performance of a school on standardised tests may also reflect the enrolment policy of the school rather than the quality of education they offer. Competing schools try to avoid enrolling students who do poorly in tests or who are labour intensive, that is students with emotional problems, family problems, learning difficulties, special needs, or drug habits.
The publication of league tables of schools based on test results of their students, usually in newspapers, turns accountability into a shaming exercise for the worst performing schools as media outlets have a field day with their headlines: “Halls of Shame… the worst of the worst… the dirty dozen”.
In many countries teachers and their unions have opposed testing and other assessments that rank and compare students as if education was a competition between students, with some students branded as failures. They argue that assessment should be used to help the individual student develop and improve.
In Australia, high stakes have been associated with standardised testing through the publication of school testing results on the My School Website. This enables parents to compare schools, including private schools, on the basis of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy, or NAPLAN, test results. It also enables newspapers to compile league tables of schools so that poor performing schools are publicly shamed.
With the establishment of the My School Website the Victorian Department of Education sent a memo to school principals asking them to "privilege the testing as an event of significance" and "explicitly teach for NAPLAN" (the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy) and to regularly practice test questions and terminology. (See Teaching to the Test).
The Australian Education Union opposed the My School Website and set up a website entitled Stop League Tables.