NMSSA 2018: Social Studies - Key Findings Publications
This report is designed to provide a succinct overview of key findings from the 2018 social studies study, compare changes in student achievement since 2014, and report on contextual factors. The report is supplemented by a report focused on curriculum insights, a technical information report and an online interactive statistical application. All reports and the interactive application can be found on the NMSSA (National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement) website.
Author(s): Educational Assessment Research Unit, University of Otago and New Zealand Council for Educational Research.
Date Published: December 2019
The National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) is designed to assess student achievement across the New Zealand Curriculum1 (NZC) at Year 4 and Year 8 in English-medium state and state-integrated schools. The study is organised in five-year cycles. The first cycle ran from 2012 to 2016.
In 2018, NMSSA assessed social studies achievement using a nationally representative sample of about 1,200 students at each year level. A two-stage sampling design was used to construct each sample. In the first stage, a stratified random sampling approach that took into account school decile, geographical region and school size was used to select 100 schools at each year level. In the second stage, a maximum of 12 students were randomly selected from each school to take part in the study2. Results were reported on a measurement scale called the Nature of Social Studies (NSS). Questionnaires were also used to gather contextual information from students, teachers and principals.
NMSSA last assessed social studies in 2014. The 2014 and 2018 NSS measurement scales were linked on the basis of assessment tasks that were used at both points in time. This allowed results from the separate studies to be compared. The linking process involved reconstructing the 2014 achievement distributions using the plausible values approach employed in 2018. This means that achievement statistics presented in this report vary from the statistics presented in the original 2014 report.
Achievement in social studies in 2018
The difference in average scores between Year 4 and Year 8 indicates that students made about 10 scale score points of ‘progress’ per year between Year 4 and Year 8.
Seventy-three percent of students in Year 4 achieved level 2 curriculum expectations or higher, and 37 percent of Year 8 students achieved level 4 curriculum expectations or higher. There were statistically significant differences in average achievement related to gender, ethnicity, school
decile4 and school type.
- Girls scored higher, on average, than boys by 4 and 8 scale score points at Year 4 and Year 8, respectively.
- At both year levels, the average score for Māori students was lower than non-Māori students by about 10 scale score points, which is roughly equivalent to one year of instruction.
- At both year levels, Pacific students scored lower, on average, than non-Pacific students by about 12 scale score points, which is roughly equivalent to one year of instruction.
- Students attending high and mid decile schools typically scored higher than those attending low decile schools. Students attending high decile schools scored higher, on average, than students from low decile schools by 18 scale score points at both year levels, which is roughly equivalent to two years of instruction.
- Year 8 students attending secondary schools scored higher, on average, than those attending full primary and intermediate schools by 4 and 5 scale score points, respectively.
- Students with special education needs scored lower, on average, than students with no special education needs by about 17 scale score points.
Change in achievement between 2014 and 2018
When comparing achievement in 2014 and 2018, we need to take into account two factors that changed in the assessment of NSS between these years. The changes related to differences in the method of assessment used (a group-administered assessment was added in 2018) and the limited number of common items used to link the 2014 and 2018 NSS scales.
The percentage of Year 4 students achieving at curriculum level 2 or above increased in 2018 by 10 percentage points (from 63 percent in 2014 to 73 percent in 2018). The percentage of Year 8 students achieving at curriculum level 4 or above remained the same.
The overall average NSS score at Year 4 increased, while there was no change at Year 8. Statistically significant increases in average achievement scores were recorded for several subgroups including: Year 4 girls, Year 4 Māori students, Year 4 Pacific students, Year 4 Asian students, and Year 4 and Year 8 students attending low decile schools. These increases ranged from 4 to 12 scale score points.
Contextual factors associated with learning in social studies
Attitudes and confidence
Overall, students were positive and confident about learning social studies at school. Year 8 students were less positive and less confident, on average, than Year 4 students.
Students who had more positive attitudes, on average, at both Year 4 and Year 8 were: girls, Pacific students, Asian students, and students in low and mid decile schools. Year 4 students attending contributing schools also had more positive attitudes.
The level of confidence was similar across gender, ethnicity, school decile and school type. Scores on both the Attitude to Social Studies and Confidence in Social Studies scales were positively but weakly associated with achievement on the NSS assessment. Achievement was more strongly related to confidence than attitude.
Teaching and learning
The majority of students indicated they experienced a range of learning opportunities in social studies ‘often’ or ‘very often’, such as, talking about the big ideas they are learning about, and using digital devices and the Internet to learn new things. An exception was the large percentage of students who indicated they ‘never’ used digital devices or the Internet to connect with people outside school. The majority of students indicated they had experienced each element of the social inquiry approach ‘often’ or ‘very often’.
Most students rated the difficulty of their social studies learning as ‘about right for me’.
Attitudes and confidence
Almost all teachers had positive attitudes about social studies, and most reported they were confident teaching it. They were also confident about teaching the conceptual strands, and teaching students to use a social inquiry approach.
Close to 20 percent of Year 4 teachers were not confident that they could effectively plan for and support students’ individual learning needs in social studies, and about 20 percent of teachers at both levels felt ‘unsatisfied’ with their teaching.
Teaching and learning/resourcing
According to teachers at both year levels, digital devices are frequently used in social studies to access resources, and especially at Year 8, to explore new learning environments.
About 75 percent of teachers accessed TKI Social Studies Online to support their teaching of social studies.
The majority of teachers (about 70 percent) agreed they had access to the necessary resources to support the learning of all students in social studies.
Half of the teachers reported having received external professional learning and development (PLD) in social studies within the last five years. Most teachers reported having professional interactions with colleagues about teaching social studies at least twice a year. Only a minority of teachers observed a colleague teaching social studies. While up to a third of teachers rated the professional support they received as ‘good’ or ’very good’, most teachers were less positive, rating it as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’.
Teaching and learning/resourcing
The majority of principals reported that their school had clear progressions of learning, guidelines outlining assessment strategies for student progress, and a comprehensive plan for social studies implementation. Smaller proportions of principals reported their school had processes for systematically collating and analysing information on student achievement to inform curriculum review and resourcing decisions in social studies, or had charter goals related to student learning in social studies.
Overall, principals at both year levels were positive about the practices in their schools that support teaching and learning in social studies, and were reasonably confident that their teachers provided effective programmes for their students.
Communication of achievement and progress in social studies to parents and whānau, students and the Board of Trustees was relatively limited.
Most principals reported that their school was well resourced to allow all students to be fully involved in social studies and that their school provided appropriate support for teachers with leadership responsibilities for social studies.
Social studies had not been a focus for development in the last five years for over half of the schools.
Two thirds of principals at Year 4 and about half at Year 8 reported that teachers’ had none or little access to PLD in social studies.
Two thirds of principals at Year 8 and about half at Year 4 rated their school’s overall provision for students’ learning in social studies as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.
Changes in contextual findings between 2014 and 2018
Where contextual questions were the same or similar in 2014 and 2018, the patterns of responses were compared. Generally, the responses to comparable questions were similar, indicating that not many contextual variables had changed over the four-year period.
However, there were several exceptions.
A greater percentage of students in 2018 than in 2014 reported more frequent opportunities to ‘make decisions in school about things that matter to them’ (about 64 percent of Year 4 and Year 8 students in 2018 compared with about 53 percent in 2014) and to ‘discuss their ideas with other people’ (69 percent of Year 8 students in 2018 compared with 57 percent in 2014). Year 4 teachers in 2018 were more confident about planning social studies lessons to match individual students’ needs than in 2014 (91 percent compared to 80 percent) but were less confident about having the necessary knowledge and skills to teach social studies to a diverse range of students (71 percent compared to 86 percent).
Year 8 teachers in 2018 were more likely draw on students’ backgrounds and experiences to support their learning in social studies than in 2014 (98 percent compared to 86 percent).
There was an increase in achievement between 2014 and 2018 for Year 4 students overall, for Year 4 Māori and Pacific students, and for Year 4 and Year 8 students in low decile schools.
There was no change for Year 8 students overall. Several findings have been observed in almost all learning areas assessed by NMSSA.
- The majority of Year 4 students achieved at or above their expected curriculum level (L2) but only a third of Year 8 students achieved at or above their expected curriculum level (L4).
- There were differences in achievement associated with ethnicity and school decile.
- Students generally had positive attitudes and confidence in learning social studies, although Year 8 students were less positive than Year 4 students.
- For a majority of teachers, there was limited access to PLD, and many indicated that professional support was of limited quality.
While the majority of teachers were positive and confident about teaching social studies, there was a sizable proportion of teachers who reported a lack of confidence in providing an effective and inclusive social studies programme for all students in their classes.
- Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.
- Detailed information about the sampling process and the achieved sample can be found in NMSSA Report 21: Technical Information 2018.
- The curriculum insights report should be available early in 2020.
- The low decile band comprised students in decile 1 to 3 schools, the mid decile band, students in decile 4 to 7 schools and the high decile band, students in decile 8 to 10 schools.
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