Education Gazette explores the value of New Zealand’s participation in large-scale education studies, and how the insights gathered go beyond the headlines of achievement and rankings.  

As a country, we regularly participate in five large-scale education studies that provide valuable insights into our education system.  

This research helps Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga to understand the wellbeing of school communities – what is functioning well, and where more work is needed to help learners, teachers, schools, and parents/whānau thrive. 

In 2022, three large-scale studies will be run in selected primary and secondary schools, and participation will be critical to support the analysis of educational policy and prompt change through the development of new initiatives.  

The TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) Field Trial kicks off the year in term 1, followed in term 3 by the main studies for PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and NMSSA (National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement). 

Charmaine Glasse, an analyst within the Ministry’s Te Pouaromātai | Educational Measurement and Assessment team, says the random selection method means that the selected schools are representative of the whole of New Zealand, enabling accurate insights into the performance of our entire system.  

“However, it’s critical that selected schools do, in fact, participate – otherwise we run the risk of drawing conclusions about the system that may not accurately reflect what happens across our schools,” she adds.  

Ākonga wellbeing 

Several studies are connected to the Child Youth and Wellbeing Strategy, capturing critical aspects such as school belonging, confidence, and identity.  

PISA and TIMSS asks teenagers and middle primary school students about their sense of security, whether they feel safe in school, whether they feel like they belong in school, and if teachers provide them with emotional support.  

In PISA 2018, 68 percent of 15-year-olds said they felt like they belong at school, and in TIMSS 2019 over 80 percent of Year 5 students did. Findings show that New Zealand’s Year 5 students have a higher sense of belonging than our Year 9 students. 

Collectively, these studies have shown that students experience greater academic motivation, a stronger sense of belonging and positive perceptions of learning when they feel supported within their school environment. 

Prompting change 

Both PISA and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) have identified trends in attitude towards learning, including a decline in reading for pleasure among teenagers, middle primary students, and their parents/whānau since 2009 for 15-year-olds, and since 2010 for 10-year-olds. 

Findings prompted the establishment of Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador, a new programme led by the National Library of New Zealand, to champion positive reading experiences and advocate the importance of reading in the lives of young people and their whānau. 

At the time, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “We know from research that reading for pleasure makes a huge difference to a child’s wellbeing and their potential for life-long success – in personal relationships, education, health and employment.”  

The first Reading Ambassador, announced in May 2021, is Lyttelton writer Ben Brown (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Koroki, Ngāti Paoa). Ben visits and talks directly with schools and acts as a national role model to inspire new readers and build a sustained culture of reading and literacy throughout Aotearoa. 

In terms of change for teachers and kaiako, research has regularly indicated that teachers desire professional development in maths and science, and a reduction in administrative tasks.  

Large-scale studies have provided the essential research needed to support the development of teaching tools that address such areas in need, and provide further support to teachers’ wellbeing and students’ learning. 

TALIS (Teacher and Learning International Survey) 2018 findings show over 80 percent of Year 7-10 teachers felt confident in managing their classroom and engaging students. However, a quarter of teachers reported that teaching negatively affects their mental health, and 28 percent of teachers experience considerable occupational stress.  

This research has supported policy initiatives and pay settlements in 2019 and the development of a Wellbeing Framework for education professionals to reduce teacher workload and enhance teacher wellbeing. 

More recently, large-scale studies have supported the work of the Royal Society of New Zealand, currently commissioned by Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga to investigate the maths curriculum and best practices of teaching this subject.  

Professor Gaven Martin, panel chair, expressed that people should take New Zealand’s performance in international assessments such as TIMSS seriously. 

“The TIMSS report basically places New Zealand dead last among nations that we might think to compare ourselves with and that’s a situation that’s been ongoing for maybe 25 years at Year 5. At Year 9, the situation is not good and getting worse,” he said.  

School communities can learn more about large-scale studies in an upcoming online seminar, discussing key findings from the past four years. 

This article is reproduced with the permission of the Ministry of Education.

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