NCEA success could be boosted with better academic profiling

Media Release
Issued 9 November 2009

Starpath at The University of Auckland says NCEA students can make significant gains when detailed data on their academic progress is used to help them meet their highest aspirations.

Starpath is a research project which investigates the barriers to educational success for underrepresented groups. It has worked collaboratively with Massey High School in Waitakere City for the last five years, collecting detailed data on student achievement to identify those barriers.

It has also been following an intervention designed by the school, which it says demonstrates that student achievement data can be used to dramatically improve the academic performance of NCEA students.

The Massey High School intervention used student achievement data to set individual and whole school academic targets. Data from each student’s performance in years 9 through 11 was used to set targets for NCEA that would stretch their abilities. This was combined with regular academic counselling sessions with Deans, and involving parents in the scheme.

The Academic Counselling and Target Setting intervention boosted final year NCEA completions by an additional 10 percent a year after it was introduced. The biggest gains were made by Māori and Pacific students, with 16 percent more Māori students and 20 percent more Pacific students achieving NCEA in the vital areas of Level 1 Numeracy and Literacy.

“This is a significant educational innovation. It shows that paying more attention to student achievement data, supported by academic guidance and the engagement of parents, whānau and caregivers, can lead rapidly to substantial improvements in achievements in our schools,” says Associate Professor Elizabeth McKinley, Starpath Director.

“The combination of target setting and academic counselling has lifted the academic aspirations of students, helped the school to direct student learning effectively, and provided incentives for parents and whānau to engage in their child’s education,” Dr McKinley says.

The intervention was managed by Massey High School’s academic achievement manager, Samantha Smith, who also worked as a Starpath researcher in 2006 and 2009. It formed part of her PhD at the University’s Faculty of Education. Samantha says the trial has highlighted the importance of building comprehensive academic profiles for every student in our schools.

“We have so much data about students that we should be using in a constructive way for forward planning – not just using it to show how we did in the past,” Samantha says.

Massey High School Principal Bruce Ritchie says the programme has resulted in an “atmosphere of achievement” at the school. Academic counselling has also helped with the challenges of meeting the individual needs of students in a large school with a multicultural roll of more than 2400.

Starpath has published a report on the intervention. Its evaluation was based on the 2007 Year 11 cohort, and involved collecting feedback from parents, teachers and students. Starpath is using the results to design guidelines for schools wanting to adopt the initiative, with a focus on managing the extra demands it may place on teachers and schools. The evaluation found teachers and Deans were supportive of the initiative and considered the additional workload worth the payoff.

Read the full report: Targets and talk: evaluation of an evidence-based academic counselling intervention.

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