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Consider the evidence: What can we do with evidence?


Teachers continuously consider a variety of data and other evidence to improve student performance. Here is a typical scenario – a teacher notices something interesting in a student’s achievement data and wonders if there is an explanation.

Shane’s story

A history head of department (HOD) wants to see whether history students are performing to their potential.

She prints the latest internally assessed NCEA records for history students across all of their subjects. As a group, history students seem to be doing as well in history as they are in other subjects. She looks at results for individual students.

Then she notices that Shane is doing very well in English and only reasonably well in history. She wonders why, especially as both are language-rich subjects with many similarities.

The HOD speaks with the history teacher, who says Shane is attentive, catches on quickly and usually does all work required. He mentions that Shane is regularly late for class, especially on both Monday and Thursday. So he often misses important information or takes time to settle in. He has heard there are ‘problems at home’ so has overlooked it, especially as the student is doing reasonably well in history.

The HOD looks at the timetable and discovers that history is period 1 on Monday and Thursday. She speaks to Shane’s form teacher who says that she suspects Shane is actually late to school virtually every day. They look at centralised records. Shane has excellent attendance but frequent lateness to period 1 classes.

The HOD speaks to the dean who explains that Shane has to take his younger sister to school each morning. He had raised the issue with Shane and he said this was helping the household get over a difficult period and claimed he could handle it.

The staff involved agree that Shane’s regular lateness is having a demonstrable impact on his achievement, probably beyond history but not so obviously.

The dean undertakes to speak to the student, history teacher, and possibly the parents to find a remedy for the situation.

What were the key factors in the scenario about Shane? What types of data and other evidence were used? What questions did the HOD ask? What happened in this case that wouldn’t necessarily happen in some schools?

  • The history HOD looked at achievement data in English and history.
  • She looked for something significant across the two data sets, not just low achievement.
  • Then she asked a simple question: Why is there such a disparity between results in these two subjects for that student?
  • She sought information and comments (perceptions evidence) from all relevant staff.
  • The school had centralised attendance and punctuality records (demographic data) that the form teacher could access easily.
  • The proposed action was based on all available evidence and designed to achieve a clear aim.

Increasingly, schools are assembling data and other evidence that enables them to track student achievement over time and to relate achievement to other factors. In this example, data about student achievement is so comprehensive that it also enhances demographic evidence, and in time it will be complemented by detailed demographic data.

A year 9–13 secondary school has extended its relationship with contributing schools to develop a comprehensive profile of each student's achievement. This data incorporates asTTle reading and STAR data. The data does more than simply place students on levels at the time they enter year 9 – it enables student progress over years 6, 7, 8, and 9 to be investigated.

The data is so well recorded, accessible, and comprehensive that it works as demographic evidence, as well as evidence of student achievement.

The group has plans to further expand this evidence to incorporate records about student behaviour (attendance, etc.), family background and health (such as hearing, vision, height and weight, and mental health). Vision data can be used to arrange spectacles for students who need them. Height and weight data can be used in line with the Ministry of Health’s 2006 document, An Analysis of the Usefulness and Feasibility of a Population Indicator of Childhood Obesity. Mental health will be collected when the school counsellors carry out a Home, Education, Activities, Drugs/Alcohol, Sexuality, Suicide (HEADSS) assessment. This evidence is used to identify students who need monitoring to see how they are coping with secondary schooling.

The secondary school's demographic evidence about students will be well established before students commence year 9. This will enable the school to develop systems and processes to cater for individual students within each cohort in an holistic way where academic, social, and physical data is all taken into account.