This post is a joint contribution by Keith and Annette Woodford. Annette is a specialist teacher in Reading Recovery.
The big message from the recently released results of national education standards is that low socio-economic conditions and educational under-achievement go hand in hand.
In the case of reading, the chance of a primary school child achieving ‘well below’ the standard is more than six times higher in a decile 1 school (15.4%) than a decile 10 school (2.4%). When the two categories of ‘below’ and ‘well below’ are added together, then the likelihood of under-achievement of a child is 42% in a decile 1 school but only 13% in a decile 10 school.
To do that analysis, we first obtained the decile listing of every primary school in New Zealand (available from http://www.parliament.nz). Of the 1897 schools listed, national standards data published this last weekend were available for 835 of them. When aggregated by decile rating, it is readily apparent that under-achievement in reading increases with each step down the decile rating from 10 to 1 (See accompanying graph).
Although the data for any individual school may be unreliable, when aggregated in this way with very large numbers of schools the ‘unders’ and ‘overs’ of individual schools get averaged out. The results are so stark that we can be very confident that the message therein is reliable.
Some educators will say that we have always known that socio-economic conditions are a predictor of education success. But what these national standards results do is shift the message from being anecdotal to being strongly evidence based. If we want to address educational under-achievement then we have to face up to the socio economic realities of New Zealand life, and do something about it.
The decile rating of a school is determined by the socio economic conditions of the school catchment area. It is based on five factors. These are the proportion of people on low incomes, the proportion of people in low skilled jobs, the education level of parents, the number of people per bedroom, and the number of people on benefits. Despite the apparent complexity of the decile calculation, it remains a crude measure. This makes even more remarkable the strength of the relationship between decile rating and school performance.
Another important message within the data relates to Maori under-achievement. But this message is not the simplistic message that we have so far seen in the headlines that Maori do worse than Pakeha. The important message is that within each decile level, Maori children achieve at similar levels as Pakeha children. For example, Maori children in decile 10 schools have a 13% chance of not achieving the standard (either ‘below or ‘well below’), which is exactly the same as for all students at those schools. Similarly, in the decile 1 schools Maori children have a 41% chance of not achieving the standard while the overall probability for all ethnicities in those schools, including Pakeha, is 42%. The problem, however, is that Maori are heavily over-represented in low decile schools. This strongly suggests that if we deal with the socio-economic issues then we will also in the process deal with Maori under-achievement.
There is another intriguing issue embedded in the data. By definition, there should be the same number of schools within each decile. However, the published data shows 336 schools from deciles 8, 9 and 10 with usable data, compared to only 175 schools from deciles 1, 2 and 3. And this level of reporting drops consistently throughout the decile rating scale. This strongly suggests it is the lower decile schools that are particularly defensive about reporting their results in a meaningful way that can be published. The reason would seem obvious. The teachers and principals in these lower decile schools are not receiving sufficient recognition of the very difficult task they face when teaching in these schools.