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Bill Courtney, Charter Schools, Education

Fact Checker: Vanguard Military School

As the NZ Listener remarked in their October 2015 article on charter schools, the national picture on NCEA pass rates is that they are now ascending into farce.

It is a February ritual to look out for the Vanguard Military School NCEA results release and to comment on what lies behind the meaningless percentages that this organisation releases.

This year’s version from the North Shore based charter school waxing lyrical about their 2016 results is available here.

Thanks to two years of OIA responses from the NZQA, covering the 2014 and 2015 school years, we now know a lot more about what standards the students at Vanguard were entered for and how well they did on internal versus external assessment.

What we now see from NZQA, for the second year running, is that a high percentage of the credits that students at Vanguard achieve are unit standards (42.2% in 2015), rather than the more academic achievement standards; a very high proportion of credits are gained via internal assessment (93.5% in 2014 and 94.2% in 2015) and a wide gap exists between external and internal pass rates (90.5% internal pass rate v 58.2% external pass rate in 2015).  Note the full NZQA analysis for the 2016 results will not be out for several months.

While it is quite fair to say that some courses that Vanguard offers, such as Engineering, will always be internally assessed, our analysis of the detailed listing of standards entered in 2015 shows many “soft” credits being gained by Vanguard students.

For example, 57 entered for “Be interviewed in a formal interview” (2 Credits), 74 entered for “Produce a personal targeted CV” (2 credits), 53 entered for “Demonstrate knowledge of time management” (3 credits), and over 50 entered in each of the Outdoor Recreation courses: “Experience day tramps” (3 credits), “Experience camping” (3 credits) and “Navigate in good visibility on land” (3 credits).  All of these standards are unit standards at NCEA Level 2.

To put these entry numbers into perspective, the 2015 July roll return shows Vanguard had 61 Year 11 students, 47 Year 12 and 15 Year 13 students at that point in 2015. So entries of over 50 students into each of these Level 2 courses is significant.

In addition, a large number are entered for Physical Education standards, which are actually regarded as achievement standards.  This means the students can achieve Merit or Excellent credits which are generally not available in the unit standards.  For example, no less than 96 students were entered for achievement standard 91330, “Perform a physical activity in an applied setting”, which is worth 4 credits at Level 2.

Some of these activities may be useful things to do but you can draw your own conclusions on what this means for the quality of qualifications these young people are obtaining.

The detailed NZQA analysis for 2016 will be released later this year and we will look to see if there is any change from previous years.

A couple of other points about Vanguard are worth noting.

First, Vanguard’s roll drops quite markedly as the year progresses.  Using the 2016 roll return data, Vanguard opened with approx.  152 students in March, dropping to 142 as at 1 July and only 113 in October.  So the roll drops away quite significantly after many complete their NCEA Level 2 and leave school during the year.  With a low proportion of credits gained via external assessment, there is no need to wait around until the end of year examinations.

Second, because of this tendency to leave after NCEA Level 2, the Vanguard roll also drops away at Year 13.  The full 1 July 2016 roll return shows 55 students at Year 11, 69 at Year 12 but only 18 at Year 13.  2016 was the third year of operations for the school, so retention into Year 13 seems to be quite low.

Of the 18 students at Year 13, there were 10 Maori, 5 European, 2 Pasifika and 1 Asian.  Draw your own conclusions about small cohort sizes and the promotion of the 100% Pasifika NCEA L3 pass rate!

As to why they emphasised the Maori and Pasifika results in the release, is management sensitive to the fact that Maori and Pasifika students make up only 54% of the school’s roll?

The policy intention of the charter school initiative was to target Maori and Pasifika learners which is why the charter school contracts have a performance target for enrolling at least 75% “priority learners”.  Vanguard argues that they meet this target because many of their other students are from low socio-economic backgrounds.

The final point to note about Vanguard is the number of expulsions.  Ministry of Education analysis confirms that Vanguard expelled 3 students in 2014 and 5 students in 2015.  Furthermore, these students are not included in any calculations relating to student achievement performance for the year in which they were expelled.

The Ministry of Education insists that they apply their rules relating to students being enrolled for “short periods” consistently across all schools and that this does not advantage the charter schools compared to any other type of school.

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