22 Sep 2012

Boys failing in reading and writing, snapshot shows

6:24 am on 22 September 2012

Education Minister Hekia Parata is worried about the number of Maori, Pasifika and male primary school children who have fallen behind in national standards.

National figures were made public on Friday for the first time on the Government's reading, writing and mathematics benchmarks.

Seventy-six percent of primary school children reached or exceeded the national standard for reading, 72% for maths and 68% for writing.

But the figures also show 46% of Pasifika children and 42% Maori children were below the standard for writing.

Some 28% of boys failed to meet the reading benchmark, while 29% didn't meet the writing benchmark.

The figures are a concern for the minister.

"We've still got to focus much more on having a focus on Maori and Pasifika, on children that come from poorer homes, children with special education needs."

Ms Parata also has a message for the critics of national standards.

"They should see that this is data that gives us an emerging picture of what our challenges are. But the whole point of national standards is about raising achievement, it's about what teachers do with learners in a classroom. This is a picture built from that."

Standards waste of time, say teachers

The Government says the figures set a baseline to work from.

But the Principals Federation and the primary teachers' union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, say the results tell teachers nothing they did not already know.

They say the Government has wasted its money and teachers' time on the standards.

"What we needed was resources to make the difference, not another set of testing that is untrialled and untested that tells us what we already know," institute vice president Frances Guyin says.

"And what it's telling us is what you'd expect if you got a bell curve, you'd expect 80% to be achieving really well, so it's a waste of money."

She says the real impact of the standards will be to tell children they have failed.

But Ms Parata told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint the information was allowing teachers and students to pinpoint which individual students needed extra help.

"There is no point in us knowing that a big group are not being successful. We have to dig into that and deal with individual learners and individual schools across the country."

Ms Parata says she expects national standards results to improve with every year.

Other data better - Labour

The Labour Party says parents would be better off avoiding national standards data, and checking other reports about their child's school.

Labour's education spokesperson, Nanaia Mahuta, says the Prime Minister has previously described the data as ropey and she agrees.

"If parents want good information about what's happening within their schools, and how the teachers are responding to the needs of their children, you'd look to the annual report and the ERO report to get that kind of information. I don't think national standards will give the level of depth that parents will ultimately want."

Don't release data - Greens

Friday's national snapshot precedes school-by-school data, which will be made available online on 28 September.

The Green Party is imploring the Government to hold off releasing the data.

Education spokesperson Catherine Delahunty says the breakdown should not go ahead.

"Schools are using their own methodologies, and the data itself doesn't really tell you anything particularly useful so it is misleading to keep saying that we know what's going on as a result of the data."