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Literacy project produces outstanding results

26 May, 2008 MEDIA RELEASE

Ground breaking regional literacy project produces outstanding results

Three year Literacy Programme boosts reading and writing performance of all Coast pupils between School years 5 – 8 with 40% above average in reading and 50% above average in writing.

The Coast-wide three year Literacy Programme 2005-2007 has produced outstanding results for all pupils in primary schools. Development West Coast invested $1.8 million into the joint research and development project, led by the Woolf Fisher Research Centre at University of Auckland, with Learning Media Ltd, 34 primary schools and several early childhood centres, University of Canterbury Education Plus and Ministry of Education Project Team.

Teachers were taught how to use student achievement data to monitor and improve both their teaching and pupil learning. Professor Stuart McNaughton of the Woolf Fisher Research Centre recently reported the remarkable results back to schools and early childhood centres. He said the outcome would attract widespread educational interest and showed that as a region, Coast teachers were highly knowledgeable about teaching literacy in New Zealand.

A key result shows that 75% of Coast children between School Years 5 and 8 are in the middle band or above for writing, an impressive result in national terms. About 50% are writing significantly above the average bands. Another key result is that 40% of Coast school children in School Years 5 - 8 have reached above average and outstanding levels in reading comprehension.

“That means four out of every ten pupils are achieving significantly higher levels than pupils of the same age in the rest of the country. Students are 6 months ahead of where they would be expected to be after three years teaching,” Professor McNaughton said.

“And those differences are the direct result of teaching practice in the classroom.” The research team followed 573 children for three years and found that different year groups made the significant gains and were above the expected average, which he said signalled a high level of effective teaching.

“A nationally significant result is that Maori pupils have done as well as other pupils in writing, which goes against national trends. Maori pupils made up 16% of the pupils involved, and that enables research findings to be useful – and certain to attract a great deal of interest,” Prof McNaughton said. Another major result was that overall the programme was very effective for boys, again something that will be of interest to the education sector.

Children at 6 years are, on average, at or above national norms in the five measures of literacy taken at that age, and are very high in letter identification. This was particularly noticeable in boys.

“One of the reasons for the success is that West Coast teachers know their pupils and communities well, and that knowledge allows them to make connections between language and experiences which has a direct and positive impact on learning,” Prof McNaughton said.

Every six months, between 90 and 150 children start school on the West Coast. They are above average in understanding concepts about books and print, and very high in the number of letters they can identify. Prof McNaughton said they are not likely to make any more gains in understanding concepts before school unless they are actually taught to read and that clearly happens when they get to school.

“Coast children are beginning school ahead of the national average in the literacy indicators that we measured, and it is clear that major efforts have been made to enhance literacy in all aspects of their activities,” Prof McNaughton said.

Development West Coast CEO Mike Trousselot said the progress reports had always been excellent, but the final results have been outstanding – and of wider educational significance. “It shows what can be achieved when groups collaborate and use evidence and data with expert leadership. In this case, our schools, pupils, their communities and education professionals have worked with leading researchers to achieve these great outcomes.

There are also very real benefits in the professional development and expertise teachers have gained. The children’s improved literacy will boost scholastic performance in all their future learning.”

Development West Coast Education Projects Manager Nicky Cooper said the results were achieved by sustained efforts by many people over the past three years.

“Teachers in primary schools and early childhood centres have made a huge contribution to the lifelong learning of their students, and it’s important that we celebrate these results and acknowledge how skilled our teachers have become, especially the skills to interpret and apply data and research results. Their achievements reach well beyond the classroom. The professional development also gives teachers new benefits and has increased their own pleasure and satisfaction in the invaluable jobs they do,” Nicky Cooper said.

Future developments

• Although the Literacy Programme has ended, there will be three on-going outcomes. The teachers have developed The West Coast Way and received funding to develop their own capacity and sustainability in literacy methods, strengthen learning communities within schools and provide professional development.

• The Woolf Fisher Research Centre is applying for funds to research a model that can build on the results and achievements of the project and ensure they can be sustained and accelerated over time.

• A new Secondary School Literacy Programme will be undertaken by the Woolf Fischer Research Centre over the next three years to investigate the apparent disparity between relatively high reading comprehension and writing scores in Year 8 and the relatively low literacy achievement in NCEA at Year 11. This project was only eligible to attract the substancial funding required because Development West Coast had invested in the original West Coast Literacy Programme.

Timeline for Literacy Programme The concept of the Literacy Programme was first put forward by former Trustee Martin Sawyers in a discussion paper in December 2003 to Development West Coast. It approved $50,000 towards a strategic literacy plan. Subsequent consultation showed widespread support and in May 2004 the Woolf Fisher Research Centre was invited to scope the proposal.

In February 2005 a co-funding package with the Ministry of Educationwas negotiated and the project was announced. The Literacy Programme ran from February 2005 – December 2007. The final report will be presented in July 2008.


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