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Reading levels soar at low-decile schools

Media Release
9 February 2009

Reading levels soar at low-decile schools

New research from The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education led by Professor Stuart McNaughton has achieved remarkable increases in reading comprehension at seven decile-one schools in south Auckland.

The results have been published in the January 2009 edition of Reading Research Quarterly, the world’s leading scientific journal for reading research. They show the number of Year 4 to 8 students reading at national average or above average levels increased from 40 to 70 percent, and the average student made about a year’s extra gain in literacy, over the course of the three-year experimental study.

Titled Sustained Acceleration of Achievement in Reading Comprehension: The New Zealand Experience, the study was conducted between 2003 and 2005 by the University’s Woolf Fisher Research Centre. It involved about 2000 mainly Māori and Pacific students and 70 teachers.

Teachers were taught how to use student achievement data and evidence from their own teaching to monitor and improve both their teaching and pupil learning.

Professor McNaughton, Director of the Woolf Fisher Research Centre, says prior to the project, two out of three students were reading in the lowest band of achievement using national standards. After the study, only one in three was reading at this low level. Māori students achieved at particularly high levels.

“For more than 25 years the schools of south Auckland have been described and criticised as ineffectual,” Professor McNaughton says. “Yet after years of critical attention there has been little evidence of how to systematically improve this situation on a large scale across several schools. This evidence marks a substantial breakthrough in our knowledge of how to make this happen.”

Teachers worked with Woolf Fisher Research Centre researchers to learn how to use evidence from assessment and observation in the classroom to identify strengths and weaknesses in both their teaching and student’s learning. Once problems were identified, lessons were fine tuned to suit. Teachers also participated in professional development sessions.

“The programme recognises that effective teaching is dependent on understanding the strengths and needs of individual students. The end result is better interaction between teacher and student,” Professor McNaughton says.

Professor McNaughton has presented the findings to the Ministry of Education, which contributed funding for the research. The findings are also feeding into Faculty of Education courses.

After the study’s completion, it was repeated with seven different decile-one south Auckland schools, producing similar results. The study was also successfully replicated on the West Coast of the South Island between 2005 and 2007.

The Woolf Fisher Research Centre was established in 1998 with funding from the Woolf Fisher Trust and The University of Auckland. It is focused on education and schooling success for diverse communities within New Zealand, particularly Māori and Pacific.

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