A contrast of two schools

Dalefield School in Carterton has been one of the high profile schools agitating against National Standards. They have claimed:

Dalefield School principal said the standards would reward only those pupils “who arrive at school from extremely advantaged backgrounds such as inherited intelligence, emotional security, financial prospects and pro-active parenting”.

And in today’s Wairarapa News we read:

A Wairarapa school will come under special attention from the Ministry of Education after most of its students failed the benchmark last year.

But Dalefield School principal Kevin Jephson, who voluntarily went public about his school’s results, said the standards were invalid and inappropriate for his school.

Only 11 per cent of Dalefield’s students met the reading standard, 2 per cent the writing standard and 7 per cent the mathematics standard, he said.

One can understand why the principal has been so much against national standards.

Mr Jephson said the primary school sector had known all along the achievement components for National Standards were unrealistic for most primary schoolchildren.

Really? Well later on we read …

But Gail Marshall, principal of Solway Primary School in Masterton, said she had utmost faith in National Standards as a workable system.

The standards were trialled at Solway ahead of being rolled out nationwide.

The 2011 assessment at Solway found 91 per cent of Years 4 to 6 pupils met the reading standard, 87 per cent the writing standard and 82 per cent the mathematics standard.

“What I like about the standards is that it shows very clearly what the kids need, and we can target that. This year we’ll be concentrating on writing and maths and we can target toward that end.”

What an excellent attitude.

Now some of you might be wondering, like me, well Dalefield may be a decile 1 school and Solway a decile 10 school. So I checked.

Dalefield is decile 5 and Solway decile 6. Not a huge difference. Certainly not enough to explain why Solway is a magnitude higher in terms of the national standard.

Having said that, I would not rush to judge Dalefield. Maybe there is some genetic quirk that means all their pupils turned up to their school with inferior skills to those as Solway. Hence I would wait a year or two and see how each school does in lifting achievement over time.

If only 10% of first years at Dalefield can meet the national standard, yet by year six it is say 60%, then that is arguably a better result than a school where say 80% of first years are at the national standard, and they stay at 80% by year six.

The solution to concerns about bad comparisons or league tables, is to have good data easily accessible, such as in Australia. Let parents see how kids at a school do over time, let parents see how schools compare within the same decile etc.

But I think it is a good thing that parents of Dalefield students now know 90% of their kids are not at the national standard. It allows them to have a conversation with the school about how they plan to lift their improvement.

UPDATE: This is interesting. In comparing the two schools, Dalefield’s school roll is 16% Maori. Solway’s is 32% Maori. Solway is the one which has an 80% to 90% achievement rate, compared to under 10% for Dalefield. So that’s one excuse Dalefield can’t use.

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