It turns out that the state where a student attends school has a greater impact on how they learn than the school's location, size or sector, according to a blunt assessment of state-by-state results released by the Grattan Institute.
High-achieving students in Victorian secondary schools made three months less progress in numeracy than their peers in NSW.
But Victorian schools were the star performers when it came to supporting disadvantaged students, who made four months more progress than the national average from years 7 to 9.
“We need to continue to support disadvantaged students,” report co-author Peter Goss said. “We are doing a better job than other parts of the country.”
The report suggests Victoria and NSW should swap notes on how to accommodate students on the two ends of the spectrum.
It singles out Victoria’s early adoption of needs-based funding and its push to increase participation in early learning as key drivers behind the standout performance of its disadvantaged schools.
Meanwhile, NSW’s strong focus on policies for gifted and high-achieving students has lifted the performance of its advantaged schools, defined in the report as schools with a high socio-economic profile.
It argues this is a better measure of the value added by a school.
This measure is also the focus of the Gonski 2.0 review into school funding, which has a goal of delivering a year of improvement in results for every student every year.
The report also reveals that once a student’s socioeconomic circumstances are taken into account, there's little difference between state, independent and Catholic schools.
“Choosing by school sector isn’t going to help you much, if at all,” Dr Goss said.
On a national level, Australian students in low-achieving schools make only half the progress in numeracy from Year 7 to Year 9 as their peers in high-achieving schools, and 30 per cent less progress in reading.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said while he welcomed the report, it only covered data up until 2016, when the government's education state agenda kicked in.
"These reforms are clearly working," he said.
"2018 NAPLAN results show we are now leading the nation in the primary years, our Year 7 students were among the nation’s top performers and Victorian Year 9 students saw their results improve in four out of five testing areas.”
He said the government was working to lift results across the board and schools responded to the needs of all students, including those with higher abilities.
While the ACT is one of the country's star performers in NAPLAN achievement data, it's the worst performer when it comes to improvement.
"On a like-for-like basis, its students make two to three months less progress than the national average in both primary and secondary school," the report said.
And Northern Territory and Tasmanian schools, which are "perennially labelled as under-performers", achieve progress that is on par with similar interstate schools.