A change in approach from schools can help turn around students heading for failure, even over a short time, a new study indicates.
There is also a warning that some schools focus too much on students gaining NCEA credits when they are worthless in terms of progression into further education or employment.
The recently published Education Review Office report, Increasing Educational Achievement in Secondary Schools, involved 16 schools who identified a target group of Year 12 students unlikely to achieve NCEA Level 2 by the end of last year.
In Term 3, the schools provided additional support for the 311 students. Subsequently, 189, or 61 per cent, achieved NCEA Level 2.
The ERO then visited some of the schools to investigate how they had attempted to turn around students' performance in such a short time.
It has now recommended that all New Zealand's secondary schools review how they track and monitor student progress, identify students who are struggling, and offer extra support.
Schools should also look at how subjects taken match a student's possible career and the involvement of families of struggling students.
The report's authors concluded that, "a significant focus on the individual student can make a difference, even in a short period of time".
Meanwhile, a principals' council says credits gained through weekend course programmes can be "great or meaningless".
"Extra work to ensure a student can master the literacy standards is entirely appropriate," said Allan Vester, chairman of the NZ Secondary Principals Council. "Picking up credits for riding a quad bike over level terrain for an urban student with no interest in a primary industry is not."
Mapping a path to success
Every one of Aorere College's 1500 students now have regular one-on-one meetings with a teacher to help map their path through school, and then keep them on it.
The decile 2 Papatoetoe school's academic counselling programme was trialled on its Year 11 students last year, and led to that year group's strongest results.
It is now school-wide. Teachers interview each student in their group about academic progress, and the results are kept on the school's student management IT system.
Year 11 dean Kelly Peterson, who helps run the programme, said that enabled every student's teachers to see how they were doing.
"The data is very good, because it's specific about exactly where a child is at, so you can start making some realistic goals, because they are all really different.
"They are getting quality credits, rather than a bunch that aren't going to help them."
Work had gone into providing booklets and materials, so when students meet with teachers the process is clear and not onerous.
Ms Peterson said the data was useful as a supplement to relationships with students and their families.
Aorere College is a Starpath partnership school. The Auckland University project is working in 39 low-decile schools to help students qualify for university.
Its director, Professor Liz McKinley, said children need one-on-one support to help them choose the right subjects.
"Pushing kids across the line is one way of getting the qualification ... but some of the efforts should be pushed back into students increasing the quality of the credits they attain."