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Lessons to be learned from school reports

Last updated 09:49 25/09/2012

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The first swathe of national standards reports probably only deserve a 'C' in terms of their usefulness.

Teacher unions and many principals would say that's far too generous, and give them a 'F minus'.

With a number of schools fudging the numbers, 25 of them not supplying any results at all (including Pukeatua Primary in Wainuiomata) and, most importantly, there being no national "moderation" of the results to confirm consistency in assessments, it is hard to judge how much credence parents will attach to them.

Even Prime Minister John Key has described these initial numbers as "ropey". But that's not to damn the concept altogether.

New Zealand's 20 per cent 'tail' of underachieving pupils is far too serious an issue to allow it to continue to drift.

Teachers and educationalists are right: Education Review Office reports are an existing useful tool on which to judge school progress.

And even proponents will agree national standards are only one measure parents should use when trying to judge the success of schools - and it is foolish to use that one measure alone. (The ERO website has a list of indicators for effective schools.)

But national standards - when properly moderated for accuracy and consistency - will give us a picture of where students are at, and which schools are excelling or underperforming at helping students with reading, writing and maths. Note well: It is only practical and fair to compare schools of similar decile/socio-economic standing, and even then some schools may have particular circumstances that need to be taken into account, such as significant numbers of new migrants, or in the case of intermediates, feeder primary schools that are underperforming.

When we have accurate figures, it is legitimate to ask, for example, why Arakura School (decile 3) has 19.6 per cent of pupils "well below" in reading, Dyer St School (decile 3) 8 per cent and Naenae Primary (decile 1), 1.5 per cent.

Some teachers and principals slam this approach as "naming and shaming", which could lead to unwarranted flight from one school to another. That's possible, if after a number of years of reporting, there is no significant progress made by a particular school against schools of a similar decile.

But such comparisons also give the Government, ERO and teaching profession good reason to focus on why some schools do better than others, and to share best practice.

There is a lot of taxpayer investment in schools and salaries, so parents will also want to see the Government getting in there with resources and help for those schools that are struggling.

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So-called "league tables" and "naming and shaming" appears to work for district health boards. Hutt News has witnessed for itself how much of a motivating factor it is for Hutt Valley District Health Board to have its ratings on things such as immunisation levels, elective surgery and wait times in the Emergency Department compared with other DHBs in media advertisements.

Far from engendering unhealthy competition between DHBs, never before has there been so much inter-district co-operation and joint planning between health authorities as they strive to keep a lid on costs and do better for patients.

Can we foster the same among school clusters?

Simon Edwards, Editor

For the first round of national standards results, see stuff.co.nz/schoolreport

- Hutt News

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