Strong appetite for National Standards data
It is great to see national standards data being vigorously debated as the first data submitted by schools is published this week. Fairfax media released raw national standards data for 1,000 schools on the weekend through its School Report website. The Sunday Herald also published some of the data along with an investigative report which examined how national standards data should be reported. All of these publications have followed up with articles and commentary on the national standards data along with basic information about how to read them.
This means for the first time we have a glimpse into how various schools are performing with respect to standards. However we must be cautious in our use of this raw data as it cannot tell us why some schools appear to be performing better than others. This is because the impact of such other factors as: the level of learning children started the year at; to what degree school leadership, resources or class sizes may have had an impact on performance; or which schools have higher proportions of harder-to-teach disadvantaged children. These limitations were evident in the Sunday Herald’s headline article which claimed that schools with larger class sizes performed better at national standards. This relationship cannot be proven from the raw data and could be the result of other factors besides class size.
It is understandable, therefore, that some teachers, principals and the NZEI say that the national standards data should not be published. While their concerns are valid, state schools are public institutions. That means the public should be told how they are performing, and be given the tools which they need to help work out which schools are doing well and which ones are not. As Fairfax’s editor, John Hartevelt said, “We cannot lose faith in our readers so much that we feel we have to censor them from information just because it is challenging. They are smarter than that and they deserve better.” Yesterday’s New Zealand Herald has published findings from a Colmar Brunton poll that confirms there is a strong appetite for the information, as 60.3 percent of respondents thought that schools should be forced to release national standards performance data.
The Government is trying to offset some of the problems with interpreting the raw data by supplying as much contextual information as possible on the Ministry of Education’s Education Counts website, which goes live on Friday, such as schools’ decile rankings, ERO reports and findings from international benchmarking tests. But we could still do much better. Using a single assesment tool like asTTle would allow uniform reporting of student progress. Including student grades over time, where students end up after leaving school and a school’s financial position, ethos and quality of staff would all help provide a more accurate picture. Hopefully then parents would have access to high quality information that would enable them to assess the performance of different schools, and choose the one that best suits their child.