Lynley Bilby

Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Threat over school data

Marc Dombroski, principal of Onepoto School in Northcote, Auckland. Photo / Janna Dixon
Marc Dombroski, principal of Onepoto School in Northcote, Auckland. Photo / Janna Dixon

Principals are threatening to take legal action against the Ministry of Education if controversial national standards data are used in league tables identifying individual children.

The national standards results for all state primary and intermediate schools have been published on an education ministry website, prompting warnings from educationalists that the Government is creating a "1st XV competition" in children's reading, writing and maths scores.

New Zealand Principals' Federation spokesman Phil Harding said principals were concerned the ministry had released the complete 2012 national standards in electronic tables that could be used to create league tables, and had made spreadsheets publicly available this week.

There was a strong possibility privacy law would be breached, he said, especially in schools where rolls were small. If one child was identified the federation would be taking action against the ministry.

"If a school has a few children performing at a certain level that are identified by their ethnicity it's very possible people will be able to work out who they are," he said.

The educationcounts.govt.nz website rates the performance of schools, based on the academic achievement of pupils at the country's 2500 primary and intermediate schools. The data, broken down into year levels, ethnicity and gender, give numbers and percentage of how children are faring in maths, reading and writing against national standards.

Renowned educationalist Dr Stuart Middleton said the publication of standards was helpful for parents and the community. Parents had a right to know how their children's school was performing, he said, but they still lacked confidence in national standards.

There was a risk the results would be used to make unfair comparisons. "We need to get beyond turning information about schools into another 1st XV competition."

Harding said a ministry report had highlighted significant problems and the profession continued to have no confidence in national standards.

The report highlighted problems including different assessment approaches for intermediate-age children, depending on what type of school they attended.

There was also evidence that children were moving randomly between standards.

"That's very problematic for both teachers and parents because if you're a parent and you've been told that your child is reading at the standard last year and you rock on up to the teacher and discover your child is now performing at below standard then you're likely to say, 'what the hell have you been doing? He was at the standard last year'," Harding said.

Too busy doing his job to bother with website

Onepoto School principal Marc Dombroski says he is too busy picking up the pieces of troubled children and their families to look at National Standards websites.

And he doubts the parents who send their children to his decile one school place much weight on online rankings. They're too busy surviving, finding jobs and putting food on the table.

That's the reality of teaching kids in one of Auckland's poor neighbourhoods, widely regarded as being "at the bottom of heap".

Dombroski faces a number of challenges in his small North Shore school. One-third of all children do not speak English as their first language and another third belong to families who are transient. Last year, one-third of his pupils left within two terms.

He is cheered to see some improvement in reading results, but wants to see a standard achievement system that recognises pupils' "microstep" improvements over a school year.

It is very hard to measure performance in this situation and the Government needs to look at the bigger picture, he adds.

"I don't like to label children from a really early age and particularly in a school like mine. They already know they're disadvantaged and to be labelled from an early age is not the right way to go."

Up the road at decile 10 Birkenhead School, pupils are learning how to be young scientists.

It is the first time in a few years the school has been able to step back from the all-consuming focus of National Standards and looked at neglected areas of learning.

- Herald on Sunday

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