Rate teachers on student achievement, advises think tank

Simon Collins
NZ Herald
6 July, 2017

Teachers could be rated based on how much they lift student achievement, if a big-business think tank has its way.

The New Zealand Initiative, which says the combined revenue of its 54 member companies represents a quarter of the NZ economy, calls in a new report for better data to measure how good teachers are.

It also wants to revive controversial moves to bulk-fund schools and to let "superstar schools" take over "failing schools".

Education Minister Nikki Kaye says she is "very interested in looking at what can be done to more accurately reflect the impact that schools are having on their students, which means being able to better measure the growth that students are making".

But she said school principals did not see a need for bulk-funding. The law allowed for two school boards to combine, but she did not expect that option to be used often.

The think tank argues that schools are failing too many children, especially Māori and Pacific students, because of poor information about school and teacher quality, state control of school spending, zoning rules which restrict parents' choice of schools, and weak incentives for schools to improve.

"Parents deserve transparent information about the quality of schools, and schools need better comparative data to support their improvement strategies," it says.

But the report does not take the next step, which teacher unions have feared, of linking teachers' performance directly to their pay.

"I don't say anything about what is happening to the teacher who is not performing well," said the report's author, Martine Udahemuka.

"First and foremost, it's to provide them with the support they need to become good teachers."

She proposes that the Government should use the same data on students' families that it already plans to use to determine school funding, such as the parents' criminal records, how long they have been on welfare, and the mother's education and age when she had her children.

Schools would have to tell the Ministry of Education which students are in say Mrs Smith's class, and the ministry would use the data about each student to predict how many would achieve the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in Mrs Smith's subject.

If the students' actual pass rate was higher than predicted, Mrs Smith would be rated a good teacher.

If the pass rate was lower than predicted, Mrs Smith might be offered extra training and mentoring to do better.

Alternatively, the data might show that Mrs Smith is an effective teacher for some students and not others.

"For example, a teacher may be highly effective with native English speakers but not students with English as a second language," the report says.

"Imagine if a principal could know that ... the teacher in Room 12 was fantastic with Pasifika students but needs help teaching her Asian students."

The data might show that some teachers in better-off areas are not doing well even if their students are passing NCEA.

"If a school was expected to have 98 per cent NCEA 2 graduates, with 40 per cent gaining 'Excellences', then a 100 per cent graduation outcome with 10 per cent Excellences means the school is not stretching its students to their potential - or is coasting," the report says.

The report says using the data should be voluntary for most schools, but it suggests making it compulsory for schools found by the Education Review Office to be failing once, or coasting or underperforming twice in a row.

It says new principals recruited to turn around failing schools should be given full control of their budgets, including the money which the ministry now pays directly for teacher salaries. Other schools would also be able to "opt in" to such bulk funding.

It also suggests that failing schools should be paired with "superstar" or "exemplar" schools, either to work together or ultimately to be taken over by the better schools.

However School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said every student came with unique issues that would not all show up in the data, and it would be unfair to blame individual teachers for their performance.

"It takes a whole village," she said.

Post Primary Teachers Association president Jack Boyle said it was also unfair to rate teachers based solely on NCEA pass rates when the goals of education were much wider.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said he was "absolutely opposed to the idea that we should use student achievement data benchmarked against some sort of 'Big Brother' predictive model to judge how effective schools and teachers are".

"Any such analysis is likely to be riddled with inaccurate assumptions and unjustifiable conclusions," he said.

In parent-teacher evenings at West Auckland's Flanshaw Rd Primary School, the children report back to their parents on their own progress.

"The students report on their learning," says principal Dr Cherie Taylor-Patel.

"So the teachers have to share all the information with the students so they can do it. It consolidates their understanding about where they are up to and where to next."

Taylor-Patel, who wrote her doctoral thesis on the system she calls "student-led conferences" in 2011, says the NZ Initiative idea that teachers can be rated just on their students' NCEA results is "simplistic".

"I worry about the complexity of the job, and no one method actually measures adequately covering off what you deem to be a great teacher," she says.

Flanshaw Rd, a decile 5 school, is as multicultural as any Auckland school: a third Pākehā, a quarter Māori, and about a fifth each Pasifika and Asian.

It boasts 85 per cent of its students achieving national standards, including 80 per cent of its Māori kids at or above standards in reading and writing and 78 per cent in maths. (The NZ averages for writing, for example, are 71 per cent for all students and 62 per cent for Māori).

It is part of a 157-school Māori Achievement Collaborative which has lifted Māori students at or above standard in writing by 11 per cent, partly by linking the curriculum to local subjects such as the original guardians of the area portrayed on a carved pou at the school's entrance.

Taylor-Patel says the key to success is getting to know each student and their family. The school employs a teacher to work fulltime with families to support learning at home.

"You don't enrol the student, you enrol the family," she says. "It's about building relationships with families."

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