Around the same time the Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce was putting together its report, the New Zealand Initiative had coincidentally started working on its own research into secondary school effectiveness in New Zealand.

Policy Analyst Joel Hernandez led a year-long econometric analysis of data for 400,000 students, focused on looking at the declining performance of New Zealand students in international assessments such as PISA and TIMSS.

Using the vast amounts of data in Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) – New Zealand’s largest research database – the Initiative has constructed a school performance tool with the primary purpose of evaluating the relative effectiveness of every secondary school in New Zealand.

In keeping with other studies, the results showed that higher decile schools outperform lower decile schools on four academic outcomes, relating to NCEA and University Entrance. However, once the effect of family background was separated, the inequality in education outcomes across deciles disappears.

“Put another way, the inequality in education outcomes evident in school league tables is not a result of large differences in school quality, but rather large differences in family background characteristics, particularly differences in parental education,” states the research.

The Initiative says this finding calls into question the assertion of the Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce’s claim that the “quality of our schools varies significantly” as the data does not support this.

It also says that the findings bury the old myth that school quality is linked to school decile.

The research concludes that New Zealand cannot begin to solve its problems when we do not know how large they are in the first place. The Initiative’s school performance tool is one way to measure them and a step in the right direction.

“We know that excellence and underperformance exist in individual schools in both high and low deciles. Our tool, once employed by the Education Ministry, can identify how each school is doing. This could then be used by the Education Review Office, Boards of Trustees or even Education Hubs that the Taskforce wants to set up,” said the Initiative’s Executive Director Dr Oliver Hartwich.

The Initiative will be releasing further results from its econometric study over the coming months and is making its model available to all researchers and government departments utilising Statistics New Zealand’s IDI.

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