Our standards for School Report

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 22/09/2012
Fairfax NZ

Fairfax NZ journalist John Hartevelt explains School Report.

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Many people told us not to publish the information you see on this site.

They fought to stop us. Some sent us bills for the privilege of their school's data. Others buried the figures we asked for in complex matrices and pages of indecipherable bumph.

Many more gave up their school's National Standards data with a grave note of caution about the reliability and usefulness of it. We have not been deterred by the criticisms and the cautions, but neither were we unmoved by them.

Anyone who read the National Standards results as a proxy for quality would be quite foolish. We wouldn't do that and we don't suggest you do, either. For starters, they are not moderated, so one school's "well below" may be another's "at" or "above". There is just no way of knowing - yet - exactly how the standards have been applied across schools.

But even if they were moderated, the standards alone could not tell you everything about how a school is doing by its pupils. As many of the experts we canvassed for this project have noted, quality is most evident in what a school does to push its pupils up, not in how well they do at attracting the brainiest, most-privileged kids in the first place.

So why publish National Standards data at all? Our critics have already suggested this is a "business decision". An official in the Education Minister's office charged that it was "solely aimed at gazumping" the Government's own website. Both accusations reflect the bias of their authors - and both are wrong. Of course we want people to look at what we have published here; to talk about it and to debate it. But that does not mean our decision to publish National Standards data was a "business decision". This project has been led by journalists from the beginning. That has made it subject to our own standards of journalistic rigour. We have not simply dumped all of the new National Standards data online.

Our data handling processes have been checked by independent experts. Every school page includes decile, roll and funding statistics and a link to the school's latest Education Review Office report. We have reported in detail across the country on a range of schools to help show that there is more to any of them than the numbers you see on this site. And we have commissioned a range of views on National Standards to debate the issue in their own words.

If there are problems with the National Standards - and it's pretty clear that there are - the Government, teachers, parents and education leaders are going to have to figure out how to fix them. If they have to be scrapped, then those that would have them scrapped will have to win the argument. In the meantime, the public should expect that the media will work to turn over National Standards information and report on it as best it can.

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.

School Report was created by: John Hartevelt, Clio Francis, Cameron Roberts, Andy Ball, Amelia White and the Stuff.co.nz team.

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