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On the Saga of Misinterpreting Student Achievement Performance Standards at NZ Charter Schools

Bill Courtney

Bill Courtney

The purpose of this report, prepared by Bill Courtney of Save Our Schools NZ, is to document several matters relating to the various quantitative measures that have been used to report student achievement in the charter secondary schools, across both 2014 and 2015.

The main observation is that, in respect of 2014 achievement, the performance standard originally set out in the charter school Agreement, the Ministry’s interpretation of this, the achievement reported by the schools and the reported achievement in the Ministry’s publicly available database, Education Counts, are all different! (See Reporting Summary table on p. 2 of full report)

One of the most significant implications of these differences in interpretation is that, on the recommendation of the Ministry, the Minister approved the release of the 1% operational funding retention amount, relating to the 2014 year, for both Vanguard and Paraoa. However, Vanguard did not meet its NCEA L2 Target and Paraoa did not meet either its Level 1 or Level 2 Target.

In July 2016, the Ministry finally acknowledged that there were “issues” related to the current NCEA performance standards as being applied to charter schools. This admission raises serious concerns about the mantra underpinning the charter school approach, which is described as: “Rigorous accountability against clearly agreed objectives.

In a paper to the Minister, it recommended a new set of performance standards be utilised in the Third Round contracts that were signed in August 2016. These will use two new roll-based NCEA pass rate measures along with a clearly stated “School Leaver” measure, calculated in the normal manner.

However, the same paper redacted the sections referring to “Next Steps” that might suggest how the Ministry is going to evaluate the performance of the existing First and Second Round schools on an on-going basis.

At time of writing, the Ministry has published its initial analysis of the schools relating to the 2015 year using what it has described as the “current” interpretation of the performance measures. But it had not yet made any recommendations regarding the 1% retention amounts for 2015.

In order to provide a more comprehensive overview of performance, I have included in the full report data from the Education Counts system-wide data spreadsheets, based on the “School Leavers” metric. These show charter school achievement compared to decile 3 schools and for Maori students.

I have also included an initial analysis of information relating to the “quality” of the NCEA credits being earned by students enrolled at charter schools, based on data provided by NZQA.

Finally, I conclude with some thoughts on the implications of this bizarre outcome in what is supposedly being sold to the country as a “Contracting for Outcomes” arrangement.

You can view the full report here.

~ Save Our Schools NZ

Spin Doctors out in force at Vanguard – again!

spin checkedThe recent press release from Vanguard Military School (3 February 2016) again highlights how the spin doctors love to spin a story around high participation-based pass rates in NCEA.  But do they tell the full story of student achievement at the charter secondary school?

Late last year an excellent article published in the NZ Listener revealed that students at Vanguard and its counterpart in Whangarei – Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa – gained the vast majority of their NCEA credits in internally-assessed standards.  They also had far higher pass rates in internally-assessed standards than they achieved in external assessments.

The full breakdown published by NZQA (and linked to in the Listener article) also revealed that no less than 25 students at Vanguard gained 3 credits at NCEA Level 2 in 2014 for such demanding subjects as “Experience day tramps”, which is Standard no. US 425, if you want to look it up!  Readers will be pleased to know that no-one seemed to have failed that one!

It will be interesting to examine the 2015 standards information release and see if there is any change in the makeup of these “top academic results”, as the spin doctors  have described them!

The final comment in the release also caught our eye, as it related to the school roll.

Vanguard talked about opening in 2014 “… with a roll of 104 it has grown to around 160 students in 2016 and will continue to look to expand.”

This sounds like the school is growing steadily but in practice, Vanguard’s roll has been below its Guaranteed Minimum Roll used for funding purposes since the day it opened.

The 2014 GMR was set as 108, but the actual roll dropped from 104 in March to 93 in July and 79 by year end.

In 2015, the GMR was set higher at 144 but the actual roll was 137 (March), 123 (July) and 84 by October.

This trend confirms that students are leaving the school well before end of year external exams take place, which is consistent with the high proportion of internally-assessed standards achieved.

But, more significantly, the taxpayer is funding far more student places at the school than has been evident in the school roll.

Given the school is operated by a for-profit company (Vanguard Military School Ltd, company no. 4622709) this additional revenue has gone straight into the Sponsor’s bottom line profit.

Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

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