Parents can now compare schools (+local data)

By Joseph Aldridge

Bay of Plenty parents can now check the student achievement levels of their children's schools and compare them against national averages or other schools - however many will not find what they are looking for.

The Ministry of Education yesterday released National Standards data for more than 2000 schools, including almost 50 Western Bay of Plenty schools, on its Education Counts website.

Despite the data being described by Prime Minister John Key as "ropey", Education Minister Hekia Parata has pushed ahead with the online publication of the data saying it was a "significant step forward" in helping build the reading, writing and maths skills of young learners.

"The information gained from this first set of National Standards data is powerful for identifying and providing support for all learners," she said.

"The data shows that 76 per cent of Year 1-8 learners reached or exceeded the national standard for reading, 72 per cent of learners for mathematics, and 68 per cent for writing.

But crucially about 30 per cent of learners are not doing so well."

The release of raw student achievement data has been criticised by many in the education sector who fear it will be used by media companies to create league tables that will compare schools based on their results.

Ms Parata said the data should not be considered in isolation and parents should also visit schools and look at its latest Education Review Office report.

A pop-up message on the Education Counts website gives a similar warning, telling users that the information they are about to view is only part of the picture.

For those hoping to use the data to compare schools, the data released yesterday is incomplete and sometimes difficult to understand.

Of the 47 primary schools in the Western Bay, only 33 have submitted comparable data to the Ministry of Education.

Nine of the schools have submitted complex year level breakdowns but have not submitted overall student achievement data, making quick comparisons almost impossible.

Five schools have not submitted the National Standards data to the ministry and therefore cannot be compared.

Of the remaining 33 schools, a small decile four school near Te Puke has returned the highest results for 2011.

Of the 158 students, 95 per cent were at or above the national standard for reading, 92 per cent were at or above the national standard for writing, and 95 were at or above the national standard for maths.

Deputy principal Mark Boyle said he was rapt and the results reflected the hard work of students and staff.

"Our kids just love learning but its also the environment that's been created for them to enjoy learning."

However, many principals spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Weekend said the data was unreliable, unmoderated and misleading. "Parents have to appreciate that there are serious inconsistencies, validity and reservations across the sector with the data in the 2011 results being published," Gate Pa principal Richard Inder said.

"As a school, we focus intently in getting validity and consistency within our school but what other schools do regarding making an overall teacher judgment is outside of our control. Schools use different assessment tools, have been involved in different and variable training, and in most cases work in isolation from other schools so any moderation is only done within a school."

Mr Inder said a number of factors, such as high levels of transience or students who spoke little English, could skew the figures and paint a misleading picture.

Parents spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times outside Tauranga Primary School had mixed opinions about the data release.

Anna Harris said being able to look at the student achievement data online would be "really good".

"It just gives us a good way of knowing where the kids should be."

However, Brent Gilbert wasn't convinced.

"It's going to hold about as much water with me as rateable values. It's all in the eye of the beholder," he said.

"You can't look at a school and judge it by a piece of paper."


- Bay of Plenty Times

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