Experts appalled as literacy rates continue to flatline

While the rest of the world's literacy rates have been improving, New Zealand's have flatlined for more than a decade, education experts say.

In a report published yesterday, Massey University researchers say schools' approach to literacy is "fundamentally flawed", and gaping inequalities continue to be ignored, despite more than $40 million being spent on reading recovery each year by the Ministry of Education.

Co-author Professor James Chapman said yesterday that the large gap between Pakeha and Maori children had not closed and "misguided policy decisions" were to blame.

"Maori children, on average, are performing to the equivalent of literacy rates in Georgia, and for Pasifika children they're equivalent to those in Trinidad and Tobago.

"New Zealand deserves better than that and we shouldn't be in this situation."

Prof Chapman and colleague Professor Bill Tunmer have been researching literacy for 25 years and said their professional advice had been ignored.

In the early 1990s, they were funded by the ministry to examine falling literacy rates.

Their advice was that the reading recovery programme, which has been in place for 30 years, was not working.

The same advice was given to a literacy taskforce established by the Government in the late 1990s.

The latest report involved examining reading recovery reports and data from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls), which is carried out every five years.

"More countries' literacy rates improved than declined in the 2011 Pirls data, yet we completely flatlined," Prof Chapman said.

Research showed those pupils achieving the least were unlikely even to finish the reading recovery programme, Prof Tunmer said.

"A significant number of the lowest-performing 6-year-olds are excluded from reading recovery because they are considered unlikely to benefit, or are withdrawn early when they do not meet expected rates of progress."

Ministry deputy secretary Rowena Phair acknowledged concerns for those with low levels of literacy.

"We have consistently said that it is no longer acceptable to allow up to a fifth of our learners to complete their schooling without the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed in a modern economy."

Extra support, including professional learning and development, reading resources for low-decile schools, and support for those with English as a second language were being offered in an effort to target priority groups, she said.

The Dominion Post