Taking issue

Headlines, Taking issue — By on April 27, 2012 3:20 pm

Reaching for the stars

In a recent address, the Prime Minister, John Key, said: “Education is a great liberator. It’s the key to unlocking the potential of young New Zealanders.

We are determined to do better for the one in five young people who currently leave school without the skills and qualifications they need to succeed in a modern economy.”

The University agrees. In 2005, the Starpath Partnership for Excellence was established to discover evidence-based ways of transforming current patterns of educational inequality. We wanted to find out exactly when, where, how and why gaps open up between the educational achievements of some young people and other students.

Working with a number of low and mid-decile schools in Auckland and Northland, Starpath has discovered practical measures that have very positive outcomes for students. The first is a longitudinal database for schools that allows them to track and analyse the achievements of students over time. Schools can pinpoint the precise points at which an individual falters on their educational journey, or where different groups of students diverge in their learning.

In the process of building these databases, we realised that NCEA is a complex smorgasbord of subjects and levels, requiring strategic choices. In low to mid-decile schools many students aspire to achieve University Entrance (75 percent in one survey). However, without informed guidance, it is easy for talented students to make errors that frustrate their ambitions.

In response, the team produced a second key innovation – an academic counselling approach that uses longitudinal data to assist students, teachers and parents in setting targets for academic outcomes, and monitors their progress at regular intervals.

As a result, in each Starpath school the achievement of students, including low income, Māori and Pasifika students, has risen significantly, especially at NCEA Levels 1 and 2, while the participation of parents in meetings with teachers has risen from about 15 percent to 80 percent. These improvements have been sustained over time.

It is clear that these students can achieve the same or similar patterns of academic success as other groups of students across the country.

Given the simplicity and effectiveness of these innovations, it is surprising that they are not already in place in schools across New Zealand. This does not require a plethora of one-off, “big bang” initiatives. What is needed is much more straightforward:

  • smart, evidence-based leadership, in the
    Ministry and in schools
  • good teaching
  • information systems aimed at educational
    excellence, and
  • evidence-based academic counselling for
    students that monitors their progress, and
    encourages them to reach for the stars.

It is not rocket science.

Distinguished Professor of Māori Studies, Dame Anne Salmond, Starpath Project Sponsor, University of Auckland.

What do you think? Write to us at: Ingenio,

Private Bag 92019 Auckland 1142.

Email: ingenio@auckland.ac.nz

Or leave comments below.

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