Researcher Stephen Rowe aimed to find ways to improve the situation as outlined in a 2012 Education Review Office report – that Māori students were the poorest performing ethnic group in New Zealand’s education system, with the most vulnerable students in our compulsory schooling system being those who were frequently absent from class or failing to engage sufficiently with their coursework.

Rowe says these students were increasingly being overlooked as teachers struggle to attend to those students who are present in the classroom ready to learn.

Rowe’s research project, Profiling academic tracking and monitoring in low to mid-decile schools that have accelerated Māori student achievement, looked at how schools could make better use of data to improve educational outcomes for Māori learners.

In conducting his research, Rowe used NCEA Level 1 data to identify three low to mid-decile secondary schools (decile 1-7) that had achieved steady continued improvement in Māori student achievement rates. He investigated practices in those schools to identify specific elements or experiences that accelerated or inhibited Māori student achievement.

“There are lots of processes and practices related to the monitoring and teaching of students happening in secondary schools across New Zealand, which makes it difficult to identify what process is having what effect. However, by using data effectively, we can isolate the effect of each process.”

He found strategic processes such as academic counselling, culturally responsive and relational pedagogy, teaching as inquiry and priority student-centered instructional decision-making to be effective in addressing the core reasons for the disparity in achievement.

Rowe also identified three common foundational elements that enabled those processes to be effective. The schools that improved Māori student outcomes all demonstrated a commitment to equity, the ability to gather and analyse data effectively and a culture of inquiry.

“If it wasn’t an explicit priority articulated at leadership level, you don’t see consistent improvement. Without both the will and ability to gather and drill into student achievement data, school leaders and teachers simply aren’t able to identify at-risk students, leaving teachers effectively flying blind.”

Rowe says the culture of inquiry was the key to continual improvement year on year.

“You have to have an environment where teachers and leaders are constantly trying to get to the bottom of what’s really holding students back and questioning their own practice as a way to improve those outcomes.”

Rowe found teachers needed not only a clear goal, but also relevant data to identify at-risk students, as well as support to constantly examine which techniques were working and which weren’t. Collectively these processes generated results and additional data, which enabled teachers to continually improve their practice and share their most effective strategies with each other.

“This research really emphasises the importance of being able to gather and analyse data effectively. This is a challenge in New Zealand because while it might be recognised that data is important, there is limited monitoring of data use or sharing of best practices between schools. This is something that we as a country are going to have to work on if we’re serious about tackling the tail of student under-achievement.”

During his research, Rowe worked as a facilitator for the university’s professional development provider Team Solutions, helping schools raise their academic results. His research project formed the core of his Master of Educational Leadership qualification, which he completed earlier this year.

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