Southern data published but caution sounded

KIMBERLEY CRAYTON-BROWN AND CHE BAKER
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2012

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New data show southern schools are slightly above the national average when it comes to national standards, but principals say the data alone does not paint an accurate picture.

Many principals in the Southland, Queenstown and Central Otago regions would not speak to The Southland Times about the standards data, which were published by Fairfax in the new School Report section of stuff.co.nz on Saturday.

It was the first time the data, due to be issued on Friday by the Education Ministry, have been made public.

About half of the 2000 primary and secondary schools in New Zealand ignored the request for national standards data issued last month, despite instructions from both the Ombudsman and the Education Ministry.

The full picture for national standards, using data from every school in the country, will not be clear until the Government places the information on its website on Friday.

More than 130 schools from Southland, Clutha, Central Otago, Queenstown Lakes, Gore and Dunedin supplied their national standards results to Fairfax. For privacy reasons schools with rolls under 20 were not included.

In all three areas assessed by the standards - reading, writing and maths - more southern pupils are at or above the standard, compared with the national average, and fewer pupils are below or well below.

However, principals who did speak to us advised that looking at the data in isolation did not paint an accurate picture, and could be misinterpreted when comparing schools.

Remarkables Primary School board chairwoman Fiona Woodham said the reluctance to release the data was partly because the information did not provide critical details about each school that explained the results.

She was concerned it did not highlight high-needs children or new pupils whose first language was not English.

"Our data cannot be compared [with other schools] as apples with apples," she said.

Southland Boys' High School rector Ian Baldwin said there would be variation from school to school in teaching and marking, and there was not a "great deal of moderation" between them. "The difficult part is to get moderation between the schools . . . we would pretty much have to do the same thing as NCEA with external moderation."

Mr Baldwin believed the standards were a "moderately useful" internal tool for sign-posting where a child was at, and where they progressed to.

"They are pretty meaningless in isolation but put into context with other performance data there is real meaning."

Another principal who said the data were a useful internal tool was Edendale School's David McKenzie.

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However, he thought there could be a negative effect if schools were using terms like "well below" to label pupils.

"If you are five or six and suddenly someone is saying you are well below, that can be quite demoralising for their learning progress."

He preferred the terms working towards, working within, and working above. When national standards were mentioned to principals many of them were concerned about league tables.

Gore Main School principal Mary Miller said if league tables were introduced it could harm the collaborative relationship between schools.

"If a league table comes out, there is always going to be a school at the top and at the bottom. It does not necessarily mean the school at the top is the best and the school at the bottom the worst. So much makes up a school."

Educators were not denying there was a tail, but the way to improve that was to put resources into those children like reading recovery, she said. The data handling by Fairfax was checked and approved by international research company Ipsos. Fairfax has removed some of the data supplied by schools for privacy reasons. Schools' data, Page 5

- © Fairfax NZ News

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