Low-decile schools are often viewed as being of lower quality by parents and are disproportionately categorised by ERO in the underperforming category.

However, findings from The New Zealand Initiative’s latest report, In Fairness to Our Schools: Better measures for better outcomes, suggests that many low-deciles schools are some of the top-performers in the country.

Following a comprehensive year-long econometric analysis, report author Joel Hernandez found 42 decile 1 and 2 schools outperformed 75% of every other secondary school in the country when evaluated on University Entrance.

The Initiative is calling for better and fairer measures of school quality in New Zealand. For too long, parents have relied on NCEA league tables and poor proxies such as decile to infer school quality. In the absence of better information, decile drift and socioeconomic segregation have plagued New Zealand schools for decades.

One solution proposed in the report, is to utilise the world-leading database in Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI).

Using IDI data on nearly 400,000 students over 10 years the Initiative has developed a school performance tool that evaluated 480 secondary schools in the country; separating the contribution of each student’s family socioeconomic background from the contribution of each school.

If utilised by the Ministry of Education, the Initiative’s tool could generate annual reports for every secondary school in the country; providing fair, objective and data-driven information to principals, boards of trustees and the Education Review Office.

Crucially, the study shows that once adjusted for differences in family background, 80% of schools perform almost identically when evaluated on a wide range of NCEA metrics.

Joel Hernandez concludes, “New Zealand has an opportunity to improve the outcomes for every student in New Zealand using IDI data. It is time for the Ministry of Education to act. Left to the status quo, future students, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, will pay the price.”

A summary of the policy recommendations from In Fairness to our Schools, is shown below:

  1. Issue annual reports. Annual reports containing insights gained from our school performance tool should be provided by the Ministry of Education to every principal and school board of every secondary school in New Zealand. This will require demand from parents and for additional resources to be directed by the Minister of Education.
  2. Allow the identification of individual schools in the IDI. This can be achieved by revising rule 5.14.2 of Statistics New Zealand’s Microdata Output Guide; reinterpretation of the Memorandum of Understanding and the Statistics Act 1975; or amendments to the Act.
  3. Further development of our school performance tool in the IDI by the Ministry of Education. Any further research should be made open-source, identical to what we have done for all the coding for this project.
  4. Implementation of our tool as part of an evaluation framework in any new government education policy through the Ministry of Education.
  5. ERO to investigate any differences in institutional practice between low-, middle- and high-performing schools as identified by our tool. This would be in addition to further research comparing the Education Review Office’s conclusions with the conclusions gained from our tool.
  6. Integration of Te Rito, Edsby and Novopay data into the IDI to allow more comprehensive evaluation of school performance in the future.

Read the two-page report summary of In Fairness to our Schools: Better measures for better outcomes, here. This report, alongside the corresponding technical report, Separating School and Family, are the first of many reports on school performance in New Zealand.

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