Anecdotes don’t make for sound evidence – a response to the Kokirihia report

Insights Newsletter
24 March, 2023

Tokona Te Raki, an advocacy and research group for Māori issues, has recently released a report titled Kōkirihia. The report takes aim at the practice of streaming in our schools and pushes forward the bold suggestion to ban streaming by 2030.

Tokona Te Raki’s efforts are based on good intentions. Māori students are over-represented in lower streams, and in most statistics relating to poor educational outcomes. Seeking to find a solution to end this inequity and ensure that Māori students have the same opportunities as everyone else is a noble endeavour. Unfortunately, there is one major issue with this report – it isn’t very good.

More specifically, almost all the evidence provided in the report is entirely anecdotal and unreliable. Teacher interviews, student first-hand accounts, and other questionable methods are used to paint an unfavourable picture of streaming. In other words, there is a distinct lack of reliable evidence. This may make for an interesting conversation starter but it is not a substantive basis for major policy change.

Let us take one example to demonstrate what I mean by this. On the website version of their report, there is a subsection headed “streaming case studies”. It contains, unsurprisingly, a collection of case studies on schools that have ceased to stream. Most of these studies comprise no more than interviews with staff members at these schools. The principal of Fairfield College in Hamilton notes in his interview that “most of my evidence so far is anecdotal.”

The experience of educators matters, but are they sufficient for a nationwide ban on streaming? What about the perspectives of educators who find that streaming works in their schools? A more rigorous approach is needed.

Further evidence of the invalidity of this report can be found in its bibliography. Steenbergen-Hu et al. (2016)’s synthesis of meta-analyses is cited in the bibliography but cannot be found anywhere else in the report. Perhaps this is because Steenbergen-Hu et al. found that streaming had either no impact or a positive impact on students in low, middle, and high-ability streams. Perhaps they didn’t read that particular piece.

This should demonstrate that even the noblest intentions cannot mask the fact that Kōkirihia is not a good report. It certainly isn’t evidence for a need to ban streaming and should under no circumstances be enough proof for the Ministry.

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