School data tells us what we already know

19:24, Jun 17 2013

Recently released schools national standards data tells us what we already know, writes Judith Nowotarski.

Boys don't write as well as girls. Maori and Pasifika students don't achieve as well as Pakeha children. Children in low-income families don't succeed as well at school as children from high-decile suburbs. And children find maths harder as it gets more complex.

What exactly is national standards data telling us that is new?

Education Minister Hekia Parata claims that the data will be "extremely powerful for identifying and providing support for all children".

In fact, the standards data tells us what we already know and what national sampling studies in New Zealand have told the Government for years.

At the education system level, national sampling is what the OECD also uses to draw up international rankings of schooling systems, for example with its Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study.


Pisa shows New Zealand students overall achieve amongst the best in the world.

At school level, teachers have always been able to identify children's progress and achievement through using a range of norm-referenced assessment tools, their observations, expertise and professional judgment.

They succeed in supporting children, including those with very high needs, in spite of under- resourcing of specialist support for schools, the impacts of child poverty and a lack of professional development for teachers.

However, as a recent Education Review Office report has noted, children who are struggling need "tailored teaching for each individual student" in classes or small group programmes.

To lift student learning overall in the long term in a sustainable way, we need government policy that addresses the family income of children living in poverty, smaller class sizes, more funding for professional development for teachers and resources to up-skill teacher aides to support the delivery of high quality teaching programmes to individual students.

Schools tell us all the time that they face difficulties getting specialist support for children with challenging behaviour, training for teachers in terms of children's special physical and intellectual needs and funding for support staff.

The Government is spending millions of dollars imposing national standards on schools in order to find out what we already know: that educational achievement is strongly correlated to a child's socio-economic status.

Within education, the Government should be focusing on lifting the quality of teaching and the quality of school processes rather than its current obsession with generating ever more data about student outcomes.

Judith Nowotarski is the president of NZEI Te Riu Roa, the New Zealand Educational Institute.

The Press