What do New Zealand students understand about civic knowledge and citizenship?

Publication Details

This is the first of a series of publications based on the results of the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS). This report focuses on New Zealand Year 9 students' achievement in civic knowledge in comparison with their peers from other countries.

Author(s): Kate Lang, Research, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: November 2010

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

Section 3: How well prepared are our Year 9 students to be future citizens?

New Zealand students are generally well-prepared for their roles as citizens in the 21st Century compared with many other countries participating in ICCS. The mean score for New Zealand in civic knowledge was 517 scale points, which was significantly above the ICCS average of 500 points.

The four top-performing countries were Finland, Denmark, Republic of Korea and Chinese Taipei. New Zealand’s performance in civic knowledge was similar to Belgium (Flemish), Czech Republic England, Estonia, Norway, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, Spain and the Russian Federation. Our mean civic knowledge score was significantly above 16 other countries and significantly below 10 countries.6

Australia, Canada and the United States did not take part in ICCS, which reduces the scope for evaluating New Zealand’s performance against English-speaking countries with similar education systems. However, our performance was only average in comparison with other participating OECD countries. New Zealand’s civic knowledge score of 517 was significantly above only five other OECD member countries – Austria, Chile7, Greece, Luxembourg and Mexico.

New Zealand had a wide distribution of student civic knowledge scores. The gap between high and low achievers was wider than that of other participating ICCS countries, as shown in Figure 1. In most ICCS countries the gap between the lowest 5 percent and the highest 95 percent of civic knowledge scores was around 300 scale points, whereas for New Zealand it was 360 scale points. England and Bulgaria also had wide score-point distributions, a similar finding to the 2005/06 Progress in International Reading Literacy study (PIRLS) (Chamberlain, 2008).

New Zealand’s wide spread of achievement is also illustrated by our student scores at each end of the scale. For example, our top five percent of students scored 693 points or better in civic knowledge, which was higher than other countries with similar mean scores. At the lower end of the scale, however, the picture was different; five percent of New Zealand students had scores of 333 or below, which was lower than other countries with similar mean scores.

ICCS proficiency levels describe student competencies on a hierarchical scale of knowledge and understanding of civics and citizenship. Each of the three proficiency levels sets out what students can typically do at that level and are anchored at certain score points on the achievement scale.8 For example, students working at Level 2 have civic knowledge scores between 479 and 562. Appendix 3 of this report provides examples of the types of questions and responses that correspond to the three proficiency levels of the civic knowledge scale.

Figure 2 shows the percentage of students at each proficiency level across countries. More than one-third of New Zealand students (35%) achieved scores that placed them at the highest proficiency level on the ICCS civic knowledge scale (Level 3), compared with 28 percent of students across all of the countries. At the other end of the scale, 14 percent of New Zealand students did not reach Level 1 proficiency which is similar to the ICCS average of 16 percent.

Figure 1: ICCS Civic Knowledge Scores and DistributionsFigure 1: ICCS Civic Knowledge Scores and Distributions
Note:

  1. Source: Adapted from Schulz, W., Ainley, J., Fraillon,J., Kerr, D., and Losito, B. (2010). Initial Findings from the IEA International
    Civic and Citizenship Education Study, Table 8, p.38.


Figure 2: Percentages of students at each proficiency level across countriesFigure 2: Percentages of students at each proficiency level across countries
Note:
  1. Source: Schulz, W., Ainley, J., Fraillon,J., Kerr, D., and Losito, B. (2010). Initial Findings from the IEA International Civic and
    Citizenship Education Study,Table 9, p.40.

Civic knowledge by gender and ethnicity

Gender

Girls had higher civic knowledge scores on average than boys across all of the ICCS participating countries and in 31 countries the gender difference was significant.9 New Zealand girls’ mean score was 532 compared with 501 for boys, a significant difference of 31 score points. Thailand had the biggest score point difference between girls and boys of 48 score points and Guatemala the smallest (2 score points).

Figure 3 shows that 39 percent of New Zealand girls achieved scores at Level 3 of the ICCS civic knowledge proficiency scale compared with only 31 percent of boys. At the other end of the proficiency scale, only 9 percent of girls were below Level 1 compared with 19 percent of boys.

This gender difference may be related in part to the reading skills of New Zealand students – girls do significantly better on average than boys in reading literacy in other international education studies such as PISA and PIRLS10.

Figure 3: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students at each proficiency level, by genderFigure 3: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students at each proficiency level, by gender


Ethnic Groups

New Zealand students who took part in ICCS were asked to provide information about the ethnic group(s) they identified with. Students who gave multiple responses to this question are counted in each group.11 For example, students who identify as Samoan and Chinese are counted in both Pasifika and Asian ethnic groups. The following discussion focuses on the four main ethnic groupings: European, Māori, Pasifika and Asian. The Other ethnic group is too small for meaningful analysis.

As Table 1 shows, the mean civic knowledge scores for students identifying as European or Asian were considerably higher than those of students identifying as Māori or Pasifika. Girls generally did better than boys across all of the ethnic groups with Māori having the biggest gender gap of 40 score points. Māori and Pasifika boys’ civic knowledge was particularly weak with average scores of 454 and 433 respectively, well below the ICCS average of 489 for boys.

Table 1: New Zealand Year 9 civic knowledge scores by gender, within ethnic groupings (total responses)
Ethnic groupAll studentsGirls Boys
Average scoreStd errorAverage scoreStd errorAverage scoreStd error
European541(5.0)556(5.4)525(6.8)
Māori476(5.7)494(7.1)454(7.3)
Pasifika451(7.2)470(8.0)433(8.3)
Asian520(9.6)538(11.2)500(13.3)
All students517(5.0)532(5.9)501(6.4)
ICCS average500
511(0.7)489(0.7)
Notes:
  1. Students who identified with more than one ethnic group are counted in each of those groups.
  2. ( ) Standard errors appear in parentheses.

Figure 4 shows the percentage of students at each proficiency level by ethnic grouping. Proportionately few Māori and Pasifika students performed at Level 3 proficiency in civic knowledge. Only 20 percent of Māori students and 13 percent of Pasifika students met Level 3 proficiency compared with 44 percent of European students and 37 percent of Asian students. On the other hand, only 9 percent of European students performed at below Level 1 compared with 15 percent of Asian, 22 percent of Māori and 30 percent of Pasifika students.

Figure 4: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students at each proficiency level, by ethnic grouping (total responses)
Figure 4: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students at each proficiency level, by ethnic grouping (total responses)
Note:

  1. Students who identified with more than one ethnic group are counted in each of those groups.

Family background and civic knowledge

Socio-economic background

Socio-economic background is widely regarded as an important influence on student learning outcomes and separating out the impact of different family background factors on student achievement can be difficult.

ICCS asks students about their home background. Questions about parents’ or caregivers’ occupations, their educational attainment, and home literacy (an estimate of the number of books in their home) are used as a measure of socio-economic background.

Students’ responses to questions about their parents’ occupations were coded using the ISCO-88 classification12, transformed into a score on a socio-economic index scale (SEI), then grouped into low, medium or high parental occupational status categories for analysis. Just under half of New Zealand ICCS students (45 percent) were in the medium occupational status group.

Across all ICCS countries, SEI was strongly associated with student civic knowledge. Students classified as high SEI scored 72 points more on average than students classified as low SEI. For New Zealand students, civic knowledge was even more strongly associated with SEI. As Figure 5 shows, the New Zealand score point difference between high and low occupational status categories was 96 scale points on average.

Analyses show that about 11 percent of the differences among student scores were explained by their parents’ occupational status.

Figure 5: New Zealand Year 9 civic knowledge scores by parental occupational statusFigure 4: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students at each proficiency level, by ethnic grouping (total responses)
Notes:

  1. Each bar represents the highest occupational status of students’ parents/caregivers as reported by students. The data points represent the mean civic knowledge scores for each group of students.
  2. The vertical lines extending from the data point show the 95 percent confidence interval around the average (i.e., + or – 2 standard errors).


Table 2 shows that the relationship or association between parental occupational status and civic knowledge for the three English-speaking countries (New Zealand, England and Ireland) that took part in ICCS is stronger than for the overall ICCS average.

Table 2: Students by parental occupational status and civic knowledge, selected countries
CountryLow occupational statusMedium occupational statusHigh occupational statusEffects of SEI
on civic knowledge 
% of studentsAverage score% of studentsAverage score% of studentsAverage scoreDifference in score points for one std* deviation in SEI
New Zealand26 (1.0)468 (4.9)45 (1.1)527 (5.3)29 (1.1) 564 (6.9)37 (0.8)
England 29 (1.1)477 (5.0)44 (1.1)524 (4.0)27 (1.2) 576 (7.7) 42 (1.6)
Ireland 29 (1.2)495 (6.0)45 (0.9)541 (4.6)27 (1.1)577 (4.2)34 (1.2)
ICCS Average 36 (0.2)471 (0.7)40 (0.2)507 (0.7)23 (0.2) 543 (1.0) 29 (0.1)
Notes:
  1. Statistically significant (p<0.05) differences in bold.
  2. ( ) Standard errors appear in parentheses.
  3. std* = standard.

As is often the case in New Zealand, home literacy resources were positively associated with civic knowledge scores. New Zealand students with 500 or more books in their home scored 112 points higher on average than students with ten or fewer books in their home. Another way to visualise this difference is that for every 100 books in the home, a New Zealand student’s score could be expected to increase by around 13 points. This is about the same as the average across all countries in the study (12 points). Around six percent of the differences among student score points both in New Zealand and other ICCS countries were explained by the number of books in the home.

There was a weaker link between parents’ education and student achievement. Just 4 percent of the differences among student scores were explained by the level of education reached by their parents. Another way to visualise this difference is that for each year of parental education, a New Zealand student’s score could be expected to increase by around 12 points, slightly more than the average across all countries in the study (9 points).

New Zealand students reported higher levels of parental education than the ICCS average. Three-quarters of New Zealand students reported that their parents had completed post-secondary level courses or qualifications compared with fewer than half of all students participating in ICCS, although this is not surprising given the wide range of educational systems across the ICCS countries.

Figure 6: New Zealand Year 9 civic knowledge scores by highest level of parental educational attainmentFigure 4: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students at each proficiency level, by ethnic grouping (total responses)

Notes:
  1. Each bar represents the highest level of completed education by students’ parents/caregivers as reported by students.
  2. The data points represent the mean civic knowledge scores for each group of students.
  3. The vertical lines extending from the data point show the 95 percent confidence interval around the average (i.e., + or – 2 standard errors).
  4. Lower secondary educational attainment is defined as completing up to Year 10 with no secondary qualification.

Home language

Language background – that is, the main language spoken in the home - has been associated with student achievement in a number of educational studies. For example, the 2005/06 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that students who never spoke the language used in the PIRLS test at home had lower reading achievement in all countries than those who spoke it at home more frequently (Mullis et al 2007, p.132).

The majority of New Zealand students (91 percent) in the ICCS study reported speaking English at home most or all of the time. Students from English-speaking homes (i.e. the language used in the study) scored 58 points higher on average in civic knowledge than those whose home language was not English. This pattern was similar across the ICCS participating countries with an average of 46 score points difference in favour of students whose home language was the same as the test language.

Few European or Māori students in the study did not speak English at home most or all of the time. More than one-third of Asian students and one-fifth of Pasifika students reported that their home language was not English. Table 3 shows that Pasifika students whose home language was not English scored significantly lower in civic knowledge compared with those who spoke English at home all or most of the time. This finding was also true for Asian students, although the difference was not statistically significant.

Table 3: New Zealand Year 9 civic knowledge scores, by home language (all students, Pasifika and Asian students)
Ethnic group English (language of the ICCS test) Other languages
Score point difference 
% of studentsAverage scoreStandard error% of studentsAverage scoreStandard error
Pasifika students80461(8.4)20412(10.8)49
Asian students63533(11.0)37497(14.1)36
All students91523(5.0)9465(9.3)58
Notes:
  1. Students who identified with more than one ethnic group are counted in each of those groups.
  2. Statistically significant (p<0.05) differences in bold.
  3. ( ) Standard errors appear in parentheses.

Immigrant status

ICCS uses the term native to refer to students who were born in the country of the assessment and have at least one parent born in the same country. Three-quarters of New Zealand students who participated in ICCS were native students and the remaining quarter were classified for the purposes of this study as having an immigrant background. (i.e., both parents born overseas). Within the immigrant group, two-thirds of the students were also born overseas and one-third was New Zealand-born.

Figure 7 shows that native students had significantly higher achievement scores on average than students with an immigrant background, scoring 19 points more on average than students with parents born overseas. Within the immigrant group, there was no significant difference in civic knowledge scores between students born overseas and those born in New Zealand. However it is interesting to note that New Zealand-born Pasifika and Asian students tended to have higher civic knowledge scores than their overseas-born counterparts.

Home language is likely to be a factor contributing to lower average ICCS achievement among students with an immigrant background. One in three New Zealand immigrant students did not speak English (the language of the ICCS test) at home, and their mean civic knowledge score of 477 points was significantly lower than that of immigrant students who spoke English at home (519 score points).

Figure 7: New Zealand Year 9 civic knowledge scores, by immigrant backgroundFigure 4: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students at each proficiency level, by ethnic grouping (total responses)

Notes:
  1. Each bar represents students’ self-reported immigrant background.
  2. The data points represent the mean civic knowledge scores for each group of students.
  3. The vertical lines extending from the data point show the 95 percent confidence interval around the average (i.e., + or – 2 standard errors).

The 19-point score difference between the mean civic knowledge scores of native students and students with an immigrant background was relatively small in New Zealand compared with the average difference across ICCS countries of 37 points, as illustrated in Figure 8. For example, Switzerland had around the same proportion of immigrant students as New Zealand, but their score point difference was 46.

Figure 8: Civic knowledge scores by immigrant background, selected countriesFigure 4: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students at each proficiency level, by ethnic grouping (total responses)

Note:
  1. See Appendix 2 for source data.

Footnotes

  1. Two countries, Hong Kong SAR and the Netherlands were not included in international comparisons as they did not meet ICCS sampling participation guidelines.
  2. Chile became an OECD member in 2010.
  3. See Appendix 1 for a full description of each proficiency level.
  4. Statistically significant at the 5 percent level (see Definitions section of the Appendix).
  5. Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).
  6. Reporting of total response ethnic data is consistent with the Statistics New Zealand standard, but differs from the prioritised classification method used in many Ministry of Education Research Division publications.
  7. International Labour Organisation, 1990.