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16 and 17 year old learners 'at risk' of low achievement and poor outcomes June 2013 Final Report Identifying opportunities for, and barriers to, achievement of NCEA Level 2 and effective transitions Preface
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16 and 17 year old learners 'at risk' of low achievement and poor outcomes June 2013 Final Report Identifying opportunities for, and barriers to, achievement of NCEA Level 2 and effective transitions Preface This report has been prepared for the Ministry of Education by Donella Bellett and Meenakshi Sankar from MartinJenkins (Martin, Jenkins & Associates Limited) and Anna Kelly (subcontractor). Our goal is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the organisations we work with. We do this by providing strategic advice and operational support in the following areas: Strategy, Transformation & Performance Policy & Economics Evaluation & Research. MartinJenkins was established in 1993 and is 100% New Zealand owned. It is governed by executive directors Doug Martin, Kevin Jenkins, Michael Mills, Nick Davis and Nick Hill, plus independent directors Peter Taylor (Chair) and Sir John Wells. Contents Executive summary 1 Main findings 1 Introduction 6 Aim of the research 6 Research approach 7 Research questions 7 Methodology 7 Main findings 8 Significant issues with the terminology 8 Schools confident about their ability to identify students at risk of poor outcomes 10 Students with Low LNS are seen as a complex, multifaceted problem 11 Approaches used to maximise outcomes for students, including at risk students 12 Years 9 and 10: preparing for NCEA and catching up 14 Years 11-13: interventions to maximise achievement and support transitions 15 Student and whānau experiences 19 Conclusions 21 Appendix 1 Research context 23 Appendix 2 Characteristics of the case study schools 26 Appendix 3 Research methodology 27 Phase 1: Selecting exemplar schools and understanding their approach 27 Phase 2: Case studies with exemplar schools, Term Research challenges and limitations 32 Appendix 4 Case study topic guides 33 Tables Table 1: Key characteristics of the seven case study schools Table 2: Summary of interviewees... 31 Figures Figure 1: Schools focus on at risk students with low literacy and numeracy skills... 9 Figure 2: Senior students non-academic/vocational vs academic Figure 3: Overlap in focus students with Low LNS and non-academic/vocational students... 16 Executive summary The research was commissioned by the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) to explore the achievements and transitions of 16 and 17 year old students with moderate special education needs. The aim was to understand how seven different schools identify students with moderate needs, what the schools approaches are, and to gain an insight into the experiences of some of their students (and their families). The research was commissioned to provide the Ministry with information about opportunities for, and barriers to, students with moderate needs achieving NCEA Level 2 and making effective transitions. The research is an important contribution to an evidence base being built by the Ministry to help them work collaboratively with schools to meet the Better Public Services target of increased achievement. Case study research was undertaken in seven schools, selected to cover a range of characteristics (including priority students and low to mid decile schools). The research was conducted in two phases: initial documentation of the schools approaches a day of in depth interviews in each school. Main findings The seven school based case studies found evidence that schools have a clear focus on the needs of students who are likely to struggle to get NCEA Level 2. The schools had a strong sense of responsibility for assisting their students in whatever ways they could. This led to a willingness to try a wide range of approaches to support their students to achieve, and to make successful transitions beyond school. The schools that we talked to had significant numbers of students who needed support to achieve, and they worked hard to identify and provide creative, flexible pathways. The schools took a strong strengths-based approach looking to support ways the students could achieve, to the best of their potential. Key themes The schools had significant issues with the research terminology moderate special education needs. When asked to identify the group that needs support to achieve NCEA Level 2, schools talked about students with low literacy and numeracy skills (Low LNS, ie below average) and the challenges associated in supporting them to succeed. 16 and 17 year old learners: Final Report 1 The schools we talked to estimated that approximately 20-30% of 16 and 17 year olds have particularly Low LNS and are at risk. Schools were confident in their ability to identify students with Low LNS at risk of poor outcomes. However schools defined and conceptualised their at risk group in different ways including: testing to identify students with Low LNS in relation to national averages testing to identify those falling behind the achievement levels of their school cohort identifying students who are disengaged or exhibiting poor behaviour (in addition to having low test results). Schools told us that their group of Low LNS students at risk of poor outcomes was not static or fixed, and that it changed over time. Students with Low LNS are seen as a complex and multifaceted problem that requires schools to develop a coordinated, multi-disciplinary response. Students low skill levels were thought to be driven by a range of factors, often reinforcing or interacting with each other. Drivers and reasons given by the schools for low literacy and numeracy included: low socio-economic environments students coming from non-english speaking backgrounds low levels of motivation and aspiration, and poor engagement lack of family support or value for education behavioural issues diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disorders, sensory conditions/disabilities and underlying health issues. The complex and interacting nature of the students issues, home situations and backgrounds meant that the schools did not see students with Low LNS as a cohesive group. Rather, they were seen as a complex collection of individuals requiring complex strategies. An area of concern for schools was their limited ability to identify students with undiagnosed learning disorders, sensory disabilities or underlying health issues. Where students had a labelled or diagnosed condition, they tended to be seen as separate to the more general group of students with Low LNS. In many cases, students with diagnoses had specific strategies or supports in place and 17 year old learners: Final Report Schools use a variety of approaches to maximise outcomes for students, including at risk students. Each of the seven case study schools had a unique approach and mix of interventions, but common themes were identified across the schools: a preference for mainstream teaching with additional support as required high expectations for achievement (while acknowledging that some would struggle to achieve NCEA Level 2 and some would find NCEA Level 1 a challenge) use of academic mentoring models and/or individualised learning plans increased focus on literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum increasing ability and desire to use student management system data and test results to monitor and plan teaching programmes offering a wide and creative range of course options (including unrelated courses primarily provided to allow students to earn extra credits, rather than for the value of the course content) professional learning and development for staff (focusing on literacy and numeracy teaching) pastoral support. Years 9 and 10 are seen as the foundation years for preparing students for NCEA when schools implement interventions to catch up students with Low LNS. All of the schools described the junior years of high school as being critical for laying the foundations for students to be able to achieve NCEA qualifications: it being their last opportunity to improve basic literacy and numeracy skills. These years are an important opportunity to catch students up and to set high expectations for their futures. While the details of what each school did at this junior level varied, the overall approaches were similar. Schools typically introduced specific interventions targeted at students with Low LNS in order to catch them up. This was most commonly done through streaming students and teaching those with the lowest levels of literacy and numeracy separately. Years 11-13: interventions to maximise achievement and support transitions. The approach for senior students differs to that for junior students but interventions were seen as a continuation of earlier interventions. On the whole, schools tended to conceptualise students at the senior level as falling into one of two broad groups: academic students those likely to continue on to some form of further study (eg university) 16 and 17 year old learners: Final Report 3 non-academic/vocational students including students on-track (looking to move into employment or trades/practical training) and students with Low LNS (who will need support to achieve NCEA Level 2). Because there is an overlap between students with Low LNS and those on track, many interventions at this level are available to a wide group and are not limited to the at risk group. Interventions at this level tended to have a dual focus on achievement and transition and included: different learning environments with a focus on practical, applied learning wide range of general interest, accessible study options the ability to study at multiple year levels. The seven case study schools saw the successful transition of students as a primary responsibility of the school. In practice however, specific transition support tended to be the responsibility of transitions or careers staff, separate to the school s leadership and teaching staff. On the whole, schools did not have additional support options or structures for students with Low LNS, and the support they received was designed for all non-academic students. Schools used a wide range of strategies and interventions to maximise achievement and ease transitions: they do not appear to monitor or evaluate the effectiveness or impact of these strategies. Student and whānau experiences We talked to a wide range of students (22) and whānau (13), from six of the seven schools. Each student and whānau was dealing with a unique set of circumstances: differing reasons for the student s low level of achievement, different backgrounds and different aspirations for the future. Despite this, some key themes emerged: a number of the families had multiple children with Low LNS and/or identified conditions and so had experienced a wide range of teaching strategies and interventions the most valued approaches were those tailored to the individual needs and circumstances of the student and where the parents were kept informed and could see progress being made students and families with identifiable needs and conditions (eg dyslexia, global development delay) usually had clear supports in place that they were happy with most of the students we talked to had clear aspirations and goals for the future, though a number had goals that were not realistic (eg occupations requiring university level qualifications) 4 16 and 17 year old learners: Final Report students appreciated the opportunity to study at multiple levels and were happy to work at their own pace earning credits over two or more years most students had experienced a range of targeted interventions (eg participating in nonmainstream classes and having special learning aids or teacher aide support), demonstrating the fluid nature of support and various strategies used as short term interventions. Conclusions Schools typically identify a wide group of non-academic students. This includes a range from those who are very capable through to those with Low LNS. Students with particularly low levels of literacy and numeracy along with other issues (such as behavioural issues or difficult home lives) pose the greatest challenge for schools. These students require the highest level of individualised support to help them achieve and transition successfully. The reasons for the very low skills levels of this last group are complex and because of this, schools try a wide range of approaches and interventions. Many of these are ad-hoc and not necessarily targeted to address a specific, identified need. The research shows that schools efforts and interventions are well intentioned and creative however some of their actions (eg creation of new courses to facilitate credit acquisition) may result in qualifications that are not coherent or particularly useful. The research also revealed some tension for schools with having to weigh up the benefits of retaining students (to maintain roll size and to provide continuity to students) with the benefits of students moving to alternative education or training providers (which may provide a more suitable way for some students to gain NCEA credits). A number of schools talked of their high expectations for the continuing development of vocational pathways for students seeing this as an opportunity for schools and students alike. 16 and 17 year old learners: Final Report 5 Introduction Aim of the research This research was commissioned by the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) to explore the achievements and transitions of 16 and 17 year old students with moderate special education needs. The aim of the research was to understand how seven different schools identify students with moderate needs, what the schools approaches are, and to gain an insight into the experiences of some of their students (and their families). The research was commissioned to provide the Ministry with information about opportunities for, and barriers to, students with moderate needs achieving NCEA Level 2 and making effective transitions. The research is an important contribution to an evidence base being built by the Ministry to help them work collaboratively with schools to meet the Better Public Services target of increased achievement. 1 It is anticipated that the research findings will be useful for Youth Guarantee Chief Advisors and Regional Ministry staff, and will be used to develop tools, materials and practical guidance. Full background and context to the research are in Appendix 1. 1 The result area that directly relates to this research is to boost skills and employment across the population through increasing the proportion of young people who achieve a NCEA Level 2 qualification (or equivalent) to 85% by and 17 year old learners: Final Report Research approach Research questions The overarching research questions were: What are the characteristics of 16 and 17 year old students with moderate needs? What are the key issues that affect these students abilities to achieve NCEA Level 2? What are they key issues that affect students with moderate needs ability to transition to further education, training or employment? How could students with moderate needs and their schools be better supported to achieve and make effective transitions? What system level changes need to occur to help achieve government outcomes? Methodology Case study research was undertaken in seven schools. The schools were selected in collaboration with the Ministry using a sampling framework designed to capture a diverse range of schools 2 focusing on: priority students (Māori and Pasifika) low to mid decile schools geographic diversity (dense urban, urban, secondary-urban, rural) schools with NCEA pass rates below the national average. The research was conducted in two phases: 3 initial documentation of the schools approaches (a questionnaire was filled in by each school; key question areas were: numbers of students have moderate needs, how these students are provided for, their transitions, and school planning and decision making; this was followed up with a brief telephone interview with five of the seven schools) a day of in depth interviews in each school (interviewees were selected by the school and differed in each school, key categories of interviewees were: principal; senior school leadership deputy principal, deans; careers and transitions staff; students identified as having moderate needs; parents/whānau of the students). 2 3 The schools characteristics are summarised in Appendix 2. Full details of the methodology are in Appendix and 17 year old learners: Final Report 7 Main findings This section presents the key themes that emerged from analysis across the seven case study schools. The analysis is primarily driven by the in depth interviews conducted during case study visits to each site, supplemented by the background information gathered in the first phase of the research (initial questionnaire and telephone interview responses) and other relevant information provided by the schools. Overall, the research with schools found evidence that they have a clear focus on the needs of students who are likely to struggle to get NCEA Level 2. The schools had a strong sense of responsibility for assisting their students in whatever ways they could. This led to a willingness to try a wide range of approaches to support their students to achieve, and to make successful transitions beyond school. The schools that we talked to had significant numbers of students who needed support to achieve, and they worked hard to identify and provide creative, flexible pathways. The schools took a strong strengths-based approach looking to support ways the students could achieve, to the best of their potential. Key themes emerging from the research are summarised below. The schools had significant issues with the research terminology moderate special education needs. When asked to identify the group that needs support to achieve NCEA Level 2, schools talked about students with low literacy and numeracy skills (Low LNS) and the challenges associated in supporting them to succeed. Schools were confident in their ability to identify students with Low LNS at risk of poor outcomes. Students with Low LNS are seen as a complex and multifaceted problem that requires schools to develop a coordinated, multi-disciplinary response. Schools use a variety of approaches to maximise outcomes for students, including at risk students. Years 9 and 10 are seen as the foundation years for preparing students for NCEA and schools implement interventions to catch up students with Low LNS. Schools use a wide range of strategies and interventions with 16 and 17 year olds to maximise achievement and ease transitions: this includes flexible, creative strategies to achieve NCEA Level 2 credits however, schools do not appear to monitor or evaluate the effectiveness or impact of these strategies. Significant issues with the terminology Our interviews revealed that there is no shared or consistent understanding of the target group that lay at the heart of this research: students with moderate special education needs. This proved to be an ongoing challenge for the research with schools continually asking who the 8 16 and 17 year old learners: Final Report research was focusing on and who they were meant to be talking to us about. Despite clear, consistent communications being developed to mitigate the confusion, schools continued to express confusion and frustration through both phases of the research. Given the ongoing frustration and confusion expressed by the schools about the research focus, clarifying the focus was an important first step in undertaking the case study interviews. Key school staff (including principals) were asked to identify the group of interest to them through the following question: When thinking about achieving NCEA Level 2, is there a group that needs additional support to get the qualification and to make a successful transition? [Interview question] In response to this question, six out of the seven schools clearly and consistently identified students with L
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