New research shines light on improving Māori academic achievement

27 July 2017
Stephen Rowe
Stephen Rowe

New research by former Team Solutions facilitator Stephen Rowe has underlined the vital importance of the effective use of quality data in schools for raising Māori student achievement.

Stephen’s research project, Profiling academic tracking and monitoring in low to mid-decile schools that have accelerated Māori student achievement, formed the core of his recently completed Master of Educational Leadership qualification. It ties into an international trend focused on holding school leaders to greater accountability for the education they provide to all their students.

Stephen worked with Team Solutions (the Faculty’s professional development provider) as a facilitator from 2008 to 2017, helping schools across raise their academic results. He is now the Deputy Principal at Rodney College.

An Education Review Office report in 2012 found Māori students were the poorest performing ethnic group in New Zealand’s education system, with the most vulnerable students in our compulsory schooling system being those who were frequently absent from class or failing to engage sufficiently with their coursework. These students, Stephen says, were increasingly being overlooked as teachers struggle to attend to those students who are present in the classroom ready to learn.

Finding successful schools

Stephen used NCEA Level 1 data to identify three low to mid-decile secondary schools (decile 1-7) that had achieved steady continued improvement in Māori student achievement rates. He investigated practices in those schools to identify specific elements or experiences that accelerated or inhibited Māori student achievement.

“There are lots of processes and practices related to the monitoring and teaching of students happening in secondary schools across New Zealand, which makes it difficult to identify what process is having what effect. However, by using data effectively, we can isolate the effect of each process”.

He found strategic processes such as academic counselling, culturally responsive and relational pedagogy, teaching as inquiry and priority student-centered instructional decision-making to be effective in addressing the core reasons for the disparity in achievement.

Identifying best practice

Stephen also identified three common foundational elements that enabled those processes to be effective. The schools that improved Māori student outcomes all demonstrated a commitment to equity, the ability to gather and analyse data effectively and a culture of inquiry.

“If it wasn’t an explicit priority articulated at leadership level, you don’t see consistent improvement. Without both the will and ability to gather and drill into student achievement data, school leaders and teachers simply aren’t able to identify at-risk students, leaving teachers effectively flying blind.”

“The culture of inquiry was the key to continual improvement year on year. You have to have an environment where teachers and leaders are constantly trying to get to the bottom of what’s really holding students back and questioning their own practice as a way to improve those outcomes.”

Stephen found teachers needed not only a clear goal, but also relevant data to identify at-risk students, as well as support to constantly examine which techniques were working and which weren’t. Collectively these processes generated results and additional data, which enabled teachers to continually improve their practice and share their most effective strategies with each other.

“This research really emphasises the importance of being able to gather and analyse data effectively. This is a challenge in New Zealand because while it might be recognised that data is important, there is limited monitoring of data use or sharing of best practices between schools. This is something that we as a country are going to have to work on if we’re serious about tackling the tail of student under-achievement.”