An overview of the Starpath Project

From its formation to the delivery of this Toolkit, an overview of how The Starpath Project has grown and developed over the past decade.

Phase 1: 2005-2010

The first phase of the Starpath Project involved the identification of factors that were having a negative impact on student achievement and educational pathways. It also involved the development and testing of practices that could improve student achievement and provide clearer pathways to tertiary education. The key barriers our research identified included:

  • lack of longitudinal data on student progress and lack of real-time tracking and monitoring of student achievement;
  • unequal access to relevant NCEA subjects and standards;
  • inadequate understanding of the NCEA system by many parents, students and teachers; lack of evidence-based academic guidance for students planning educational and career pathways;
  • low success rates in NCEA Level 2 literacy needed for UE award; proliferation of numerous student-support initiatives;
  • and the need for clear, coherent leadership across the school.

The outcome was the DUACTS programme – focused on data utilisation, academic counselling, and target setting. This programme was first implemented and tested for its academic effectiveness at Massey High School in 2007[1], as part of Samantha Smith’s PhD research while she was seconded to work with the Starpath team. Additional research evaluated its initial impact[2] and sustainability over time[3], as well as transferability to four other schools in Auckland and Northland[4]

[1] Smith, S.L. (2010) Academic target setting: Formative use of achievement data. Unpublished PhD thesis in Education. The University of Auckland.

[1] McKinley, E., Madjar, I., van der Merwe, A., Smith, S., Sutherland, S., & Yuan, J. (2009). Targets and Talk: Evaluation of an evidence-based academic counselling programme. Auckland: Starpath Project, The University of Auckland.

[1]McKinley, E., Madjar, I., Jensen, S. and Mizutani, S. (2010). Targets and Talk 2:

Follow-up evaluation of the Academic Counselling and Target Setting programme. Starpath Project, The University of Auckland. (Unpublished report).

[1] McKinley, E., Madjar, I., Smith, S.L., Irving, E., Turner, R., Dunsford, D., Mizutani, S. (2010).Targets and Talk 3: Transferability Research in Academic Counselling and Target Setting. Starpath Project, The University of Auckland. (Unpublished report).

Phase 2:2010-2015

In Phase 2, beginning in 2011, the DUACTS programme was implemented in 34 schools across Auckland and Northland. In addition, PLD support in subject-specific literacy and leadership was provided by the staff from the Woolf Fisher Research Centre and the University of Auckland Centre for Educational Leadership respectively. This toolkit contains the resource materials used as part of PLD work with these schools, including descriptions of different elements of the programme, the principles that underpin them, and templates and examples of practices as these were developed and sometimes adapted to suit individual schools in terms of their size, location and resources.

Following is a brief outline of the key elements of the Starpath programme and the rationale for their implementation and use.

Data utilisation:

Based on international research, we know that schools need to have a centralised, comprehensive, accurate, longitudinal database on all students. This allows the school and individual teachers to track and monitor student progress, inform conversations with students and parents, identify the need for intervention in real time, and adjust classroom practices in response to student needs. Accurate data are also the basis for strategic planning; individual, group, and school-wide target setting; and for self-review and evaluation.

Academic conversations: 

International and Starpath’s ongoing research indicate that purposeful engagement with students and their families is critical to student success. Such engagement involves regular two-way conversations between a student and a designated teacher (academic counselling/coaching/mentoring), and periodic, three-way, parent-student-teacher conversations, as well as data-based teacher core group meetings. To be effective, academic conversations with students and their parents/whānau need to be data based, individualised and responsive to each student’s personal situation, focused on learning and achievement rather than behaviour, and be genuinely interactive, allowing students and parents as well as teachers to offer their views, ask questions, clarify understandings, and contribute to goal setting and planning. Parental/whānau engagement initiated through parent-student-teacher conferences is critical to developing trust and rapport that can support students in setting and achieving their academic goals.

Subject-specific literacy:

To be successful in mastering individual subjects – be they English, mathematics, science or any other – students need to be helped to develop not only the vocabulary but the discourses that typify each subject and allow students to demonstrate their learning. It requires that teachers provide opportunities for students to engage effectively with increasingly longer and more sophisticated texts that are reflective of the texts they are likely to encounter in external assessments, and in tertiary studies. It also requires that students are able to engage in dialogue and group discussions that allow them to practice subject specific discourses and develop their confidence in communicating their knowledge.

Goal-focused, coherent leadership:

Improvement in student achievement requires strong leadership that is focused on a small number of clearly articulated goals and clearly understood strategies designed to reach the set goals. Clear communication and feedback between senior and middle leaders and teachers is essential if everyone is to engage in shared ownership of the key goals and the work needed to achieve them.

Each of the above four key elements of the Starpath programme is discussed in more detail in the subsequent sections of the toolkit.