Research Note: To Graduation and Beyond

Research Note
10 June, 2021

The purpose of secondary schooling varies depending on who you ask. For many parents, educators, and education professionals, schooling is meant to transmit the most ‘powerful’ knowledge that exists. For others, it is to transform and prepare society for the ever-changing future.

But almost all would agree that they want students to be more than just proficient in English, history, maths and science. They want students to be employable, lifelong learners, and participating citizens.

Quantifying such subjective outcomes is a great challenge the education sector faces today. Academic measures such as NCEA are considered by many as a good proxy for those in-demand outcomes in students, at least partially. Others say such measures fall short in many areas. Indeed, NCEA is not a perfect measure but it is a practical metric that educators, researchers and government can use to identify and study student and school performance.

University Entrance (UE) attainment is arguably a better measure of student achievement. However, like NCEA it does not capture all the aspects of educational attainment that educators, parents and society care about.

Fortunately, innovations in data management have helped The New Zealand Initiative study how our schools are performing on outcomes beyond NCEA and UE attainment.

Using data on more than 500,000 students in Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), this report shows how nearly 500 secondary schools are preparing students for further tertiary education. Specifically, it examines whether students are progressing into tertiary education, and whether they complete a tertiary qualification after enrolling.

Of course, not every student needs to or should go on to tertiary education. There are many worthwhile opportunities outside of formal education.

Nevertheless, a successful secondary school should provide every student with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their endeavours after graduation – tertiary education included. For this reason, this report shows how effective our current school system is in preparing the next generation for further tertiary study. Future IDI research should investigate alternative post-school outcomes such as employment, benefits uptake, and interactions with Justice and Corrections.

This is the sixth report in the Initiative’s series of IDI school performance research. Details of our school performance tool and all previous reports can be found in Section 1A of the Appendix.

Key findings

Progression into tertiary education: Results

  • A greater proportion of high-performing schools were found in deciles 9 and 10 when we evaluated schools on the progression of their students into tertiary education – before adjusting for family socioeconomic background. This is consistent with results from our analysis one, three, five and seven years after graduation.
  • There are both high-performing low and high decile schools after adjusting for family socioeconomic background. There are also few to no high-performing middle decile 5 and 6 schools. This finding is consistent with the evaluations after one, three, five and seven years.
  • Evaluating schools on outcomes that occur further from graduation (five and seven years) showed higher levels of uncertainty among school estimates. This increase is significant enough that several schools in the top 10% of the distribution are not statistically distinguishable from the middle 80% of schools at the lower bound.

Completion of tertiary education: Results

  • Before adjusting for family socioeconomic background, we found a greater proportion of high-performing low decile schools when evaluated on the completion of a tertiary qualification one and three years after graduation. We also found a small proportion of high-performing middle decile schools in the one- and three-year evaluations.
  • Evaluating schools on the completion of a tertiary qualification five and seven years after graduation showed a greater proportion of high-performing high decile schools. A small proportion of high-performing low and middle decile schools were found in the five-year evaluation.
  • However, adjusting for family socioeconomic background showed high-performing schools across all deciles, albeit with a greater level of uncertainty among the school estimates.
  • While there are high-performing schools across all deciles, a greater proportion exists across deciles 1–4 in the one-, three-, five-, and seven-year evaluations.

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