Saturday, September 22, 2012

Reform program closes learning gap for indigenous kids

This article from today's Australian is invaluable and magnificent. It provides the hard data which shows that Direct Instruction works but also there is a lot of hard work still to be done. In particular, it is very hard for those who have been left behind from failed education to catch up.

Reform program closes learning gap for indigenous kids
From: The Australian September 22, 2012

 SCHOOL reform is a journey that takes rigour, tenacity and consistency. You must first get the reform ideas right. Then you have to get the implementation right. It's a longer, harder journey if you have a poor starting point.

We began working on a school reform program in 2010 with the establishment of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy. By the time students in two of our schools sat for the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy benchmarking tests in May this year, they were in our program for two years and four months. A third school has been with us for one year and four months. So we are in the early stages of our journey.

Historically, our schools have been at the lower end of the Queensland schools system. In fact one would have been a contender for bottom position.

The release this week of this year's NAPLAN results gives us an opportunity to reflect where we are on our journey.

Let's focus on two fictionally named but typical students.

First is Joe, who was in Year 3 in Aurukun in January 2010. When tested at kindergarten level in literacy and numeracy, Joe was far below the Year 3 national benchmarks. However, with our Direct Instruction reform program, Joe started learning at a rate of about one year level a year. By May, Joe was in Year 5 and progressed to be at a Grade 2 level.

Joe is making progress at good speed. Given where he was in 2010, Joe could not be expected to reach the Year 5 national benchmark in 2.4 years. Joe has two more years of primary schooling and will be functionally literate and numerate in Year 7. However, he is unlikely to match his Year 7 peers in the mainstream in the 2014 NAPLAN tests.

Second is Mary, who was in Prep in January 2010. Prep is not compulsory but Mary's parents ensured she attended regularly. She has been taught effectively from the start using Direct Instruction. Like her other Prep peers at Aurukun and Coen, Mary can hold her own with Prep students around Australia. Mary is now in Year 2 and will sit the NAPLAN test next year. Provided her attendance is maintained, she will meet the Year 3 national benchmarks and continue to do so in future.

One cannot sensibly appreciate NAPLAN results without understanding what is involved when school reform is undertaken for students such as Joe and Mary. In schools that have failed historically, even the best reform programs will have limited results with older students who have a wider learning gap to close. The best results will be evidenced by those students who have had the benefit of the reforms from the beginning of their schooling.

There is a need to increase public, media and governmental literacy in relation to school reform. Schools in a system as large as Queensland's range from failing to average to good. The reform challenge is different across this spectrum.

Whatever is needed to improve the performance of the middle and top schools, those at the lowest end require comprehensive reform. This is what we are doing with our academy. In Coen, average scores improved in 12 out of the 15 categories since 2010. All of our Year 3 students met national minimum benchmarks in every NAPLAN category.

In Aurukun, average scores improved in eight out of the 15 categories since 2010. On average, one-quarter of our Year 3 students met national minimum benchmarks.

As part of Direct Instruction we administer other student assessments. This internal data tells us that out of 200 Aurukun students, 30 are at grade level in reading and 60 are at grade level in numeracy. No students were at grade level when we started. In Coen, out of the 50 students, 22 students are at grade level in reading and 25 in numeracy. Only one was at grade level in literacy and two in numeracy when we started. The NAPLAN results are quite consistent with our internal data; if anything our internal data is not as positive as NAPLAN.

How is the positive progress on grade levels to be understood against the large NAPLAN gaps? The answer is this: most students who are reaching grade level are in the earliest years. Like Mary, there are more students in the early years who are at grade level.

The limitation of NAPLAN is that it tells us only whether our schools are meeting national benchmarks. It does not tell us whether and at what rate our schools are closing the gap. Imagine Joe in a race against Billy from a good Queensland school. Joe is starting way behind and won't reach the milestones at the same time as Billy. But we can show he is closing the gap.

Mary, on the other hand, started the race at the same time as Sophie from that good Queensland school and has a good chance of keeping up with her, as long as her parents continue to send her to school.

How do you tell who is running fast enough or who is spinning their heels?

John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, uses the concept of effect size to answer this question: what effect has your school had on student progress across the past year? What is the size of the gain they made from where they were to where they are now?

NAPLAN should be supplemented by an effect size score using all available assessment data. Each school should be required to report on what effect they had on student learning. These should be confirmed by Education Department auditors as part of teaching and learning audits and published with the NAPLAN results.

For the first time, Joe is learning. We just need a national mechanism to demonstrate his success.

Danielle Toon is chief executive of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy and received a 2011 Winston Churchill Fellowship to study school systems in the US, Canada and Britain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We (my wife is the teacher, I'm just the interested other) noted this when NAPLAN forst came out. The real information is how the same students performance varies over the gaps between 3 & 5, 5 & 7 etc.

The actual scores, while of interest are more a reflection of demographics a than what you are calling 'effect size'.