OECD report has "innovative solutions" for low performance



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New Zealand's poorest 15-year-olds are six times more likely to be failing maths than their wealthy counterparts, according to an OECD report. ELIZABETH McLEOD reports.

The report Low-Performing Students: Why they fall behind and how to help them succeed, shows that while our overall proportion of low-performing students in maths, reading and science is just above the OECD average, New Zealand’s socioeconomic gap for maths is one of the widest in the world.

Released in February, the report analyses PISA 2012 results and particularly the drop internationally in 15-year-olds’ maths performance.

It found that students in the lowest socio-economic quartile in New Zealand were 6.4 times more likely to be low performers in maths than those in the top quartile. Only three OECD countries – Ireland, Poland and Israel – had worse gaps.

The report identifies other factors linked to poor maths performance (speaking a different language at home; being from a single-parent family; not having attended ECE; student behaviours such as skipping school, not doing homework, displaying low perseverance and motivation; and teacher behaviours like low morale, low expectations for students and absenteeism).

However, the report found these other risk factors have a greater impact on poorer students than they do on advantaged students.

It also found that schools with a mix of advantaged and disadvantaged students are less likely to have low performers, while ‘streaming’ for ability is related to a greater number of low performers and a smaller number of high performers – contrary to popular opinion.

“This suggests that systems that distribute both educational resources and students more equitably across schools might benefit low performers without undermining better-performing students (as is often feared),” says the report.

The report stresses its findings are correlational but not necessarily causal. However it analyses the policies of the countries with the top maths rankings and the fewest low-performers (Shanghai/China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Macao-China and Japan), and makes recommendations for policymakers including that they:

  • prioritise tackling low performance, and allocate additional resources to it
  • dismantle multiple barriers with a multi-pronged approach
  • provide remedial support as early as possible (Singapore provides specialist support for 4-8 periods a week)
  • create demanding and supportive learning environments, including ensuring low performers have highly-skilled teachers
  • find ways to encourage parent and local community involvement (e.g in Japan local volunteers help low-performing students with after-school remedial lessons)
  • reduce the concentration of disadvantaged and low-performing students in particular schools
  • improve access to ECE.

Principals Federation president Iain Taylor says the report “suggests innovative answers that are nothing like the out-dated standardised solutions such as National Standards, charter schools and IES policies.”

Taylor says he agrees with all the recommendations and would like to see New Zealand focus more on our own curriculum.

“Our curriculum process gives us the basis to create the school culture that best fits our community of learners. In this way we’re in accord with the OECD suggestions and well on track to being successful. All we need to complete the picture are the resources.”

Education minister Hekia Parata will no doubt welcome some aspects of the report more than others: she has played down the role of socio-economic factors in student achievement in the past, saying quality of teaching, expectations and school leadership have a greater impact.

Parata is currently in Berlin for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, having visited Estonia, one of the OECD’s top-performing education systems.

Read the OECD report here: http://www.oecd.org/edu/supporting-teacher-professionalism-9789264248601-en.htm

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