As part of every school’s education review, the Education Review Office (ERO) investigates and reports on the achievement of Pacific students and what boards of trustees and school leaders have done to improve education outcomes for these students.
This is the second of two evaluations on the achievement, engagement and presence of Pacific students. In the September 2009 report Progress in Pacific Student Achievement – A pilot evaluation of Auckland Schools, ERO focused on 32 schools, the initiatives they undertook to improve outcomes for Pacific students, and how effectively these brought about the desired improvement. ERO concluded that good quality teaching strategies and strong partnerships with parents and communities were the factors that contributed most to improving the engagement and achievement of these students.
In this evaluation, undertaken throughout 2009, ERO evaluated Pacific students’ presence, achievement and engagement in schools nationally. ERO wanted to know what initiatives schools had put in place in the last three years since their previous review. An important difference between the two evaluations was that the overall ratio of Pacific students on school rolls was significantly higher in the pilot study undertaken in Auckland than in schools generally.1
This study showed some improvements in the attendance of Pacific students. Many schools had fewer Pacific students involved in disciplinary actions. Overall schools were taking action earlier if problems arose; resulting in more stand-downs but fewer suspensions and exclusions for Pacific students. Attendance was not an issue in 30 percent of the schools. However, 40 percent of schools either did not monitor, or could not demonstrate any improvement in Pacific students’ attendance.
Some schools had initiated programmes aimed explicitly at improving outcomes for Pacific students. These included increasing teacher and/or trustees’ knowledge of Pacific cultures, setting high achievement expectations, reinforcing effective teaching strategies, and extra provision for English and/or Pacific languages programmes. Initiatives to improve students’ engagement usually entailed integrating elements of Pacific cultures and languages in school and classroom programmes.
While most schools were involved in initiatives to raise Pacific students’ literacy and numeracy achievement many of these were school‑wide projects where gains were often noted for Pacific students along with other students. As the focus was not on Pacific students specifically, this group of students tended to remain at the lower end of the achievement range even though their achievement rose.
Many schools did not know what impact their initiatives were having on Pacific students’ achievement. ERO found that over half the schools did not know if Pacific students had improved in literacy and numeracy. Reasons for the limited monitoring of Pacific students’ achievement included: difficulties for schools with very small number of Pacific students on the roll; little use of data before and after an initiative; and not collating data about individual students to identify trends and patterns. Minimal monitoring meant that fewer than 20 percent of schools were able to demonstrate improved literacy and numeracy achievement levels for Pacific students.
Schools that succeeded in raising Pacific student achievement generally had close links with parents, families and communities. Some schools had a Pacific liaison person who assisted with engaging parents in students’ learning and in the life of the school. Effective schools had a variety of ways to create and maintain a climate that was inclusive and welcoming for Pacific students and their families.
Initiatives in schools resulted in 17 percent of boards having more Pacific representatives than at the time of the school’s previous ERO review. Board members’ levels of knowledge about Pacific student achievement and understanding of related issues had substantially improved in nine percent of all the schools. Trustees in these boards were well placed to make informed strategic decisions about how to improve outcomes for Pacific students.
ERO recommends that school leaders:
- improve how they collect, analyse and use Pacific students’ achievement information:
- improve school processes to enable students to know about their progress and achievement and how to manage their learning;
- build teachers’ and boards’ knowledge of the strengths and needs of Pacific students, and how to use this knowledge to benefit these students;
- strengthen links with Pacific parents and communities to facilitate communication and build mutual understanding about the best ways to support their children’s learning; and
- use the contextual flexibility inherent in The New Zealand Curriculum to design and implement teaching and learning programmes that reflect Pacific students voices and aspects of cultures and languages relevant to their learning.
ERO recommends that the Ministry of Education:
- work with schools to increase school leaders’ and teachers’ understanding of the importance of partnership with Pacific communities; and
- consider ways to increase school leaders’ knowledge of how to review and report Pacific students’ achievement and progress, particularly when the numbers are small.