Newspapers have reported results from a major educational study that found students who rank in the top 10 percent of the Basic Competence Test for junior high school and who entered high school in the same region perform better on the General Scholastic Ability Test for college matriculation than those who attend elite high schools.
A closer look at the study, however, reveals a number of problems.
Students who moved locations to enter 27 elite high schools and those who remained in the same area to enter 21 community high schools in fact belong to groups that are not so easy to compare.
"Elite" and "community" high schools were not clearly defined in the study. Although it was not reported in the study which schools fall under the "elite" category, it can be assumed that the elite high schools in the sample do not necessarily offer better quality education than local schools.
In other words, as far as the quality of students is concerned, those who choose to enter high school locally were not necessarily academically worse off than those who attended elite high schools in other districts. The research hypotheses of the study are plainly questionable.
Experience tells us that there might be a number of less accomplished students among those attending elite senior high schools as well as excellent students among those attending local schools.
In other words, those attending local schools are not necessarily performing below the level of those at elite schools in other districts.
There was also a huge discrepancy in the samples used for the two groups: the first consisted of 14,620 students and the second of only 2,480. This gap certainly leaves room for doubt.
The use of such samples leads to suspicions that the study was based on preconceptions that elite high schools are supposed to be superior to community high schools. But as the schools selected for the samples didn't match, it is difficult to accept the conclusion drawn by the study that community high school students performed better.
If the study was intended simply to highlight advantages of attending high school in one's own area, I'm sure the findings would be acceptable to the general public, and that this would also provide evidence to support the Ministry of Education's policies of integrating high schools in local communities and implementing its 12-year compulsory education agenda.
It is not at all certain, however, that we can use this study to prove that attending community schools gives better results.
I basically support a policy of encouraging students to attend high school in the local community, but elite high schools play an important role for those few gifted students that need a competitive environment to tap more of their potential.
I ask therefore that we stop scapegoating elite schools.
Tsai Ping-kun is principal of the National Taichung First Senior High School.
Translated by Ted Yang
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