NMSSA 2016: Learning Languages - Key Findings

Publication Details

In 2016, the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) assessed student achievement at Year 4 and Year 8 in two areas of the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) - learning languages and technology. This report presents the key findings for learning languages. It is supported by a report of technical information related to different components of the study.

Author(s): Educational Assessment Research Unit and New Zealand Council of Educational Research. Report for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: May 2018

Executive Summary

Learning languages

The learning languages learning area in the NZC emphasises the connection between language, culture and identity building. Moreover, languages connect people across various contexts. The NZC describes learning languages as '… a means of communicating with people from another culture and exploring one's own personal world' (p. 24).

Unlike other learning areas where curriculum levels generally relate to years at school, this learning area is unique insofar as the levels describe learning progressions that can have as their starting point a 5-year-old student or a 13-year-old student.

Te Reo Māori

Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Māori
The language is the life force of mana Māori
- Sir James Henare

Te reo Māori was given legal status nearly 30 years ago and is one of the three official languages of Aotearoa New Zealand, along with English and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). The achievement focus for this study was on te reo Māori as described in Te Aho Arataki Marau mō te Ako i Te Reo Māori – Kura Auraki: Curriculum Guidelines for Teaching and Learning Te Reo Māori in English-medium Schools: Years 1-13.

There is no compulsion to teach te reo Māori to a particular level of proficiency and, according to the Royal Society of New Zealand (2013), the language receives uneven attention across the education system. Therefore the achievement focus for this study was on students' knowledge of te reo Māori, mainly within Level 1 of the curriculum guidelines.

During the writing of this report, there was ongoing public debate about whether teaching and learning
te reo Māori should be made compulsory at school. Also during this time, the Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017 stated that the provision of opportunities for students to learn te reo Māori at school can be requested by parents, and a school board "must take all reasonable steps to provide instruction in tikanga Māori (Māori culture) and te reo Māori (the Māori language) for full-time students whose parents ask for it" (Schedule 6, Boards of Trustees).

Study features

NMSSA used a two-step sampling procedure to select 100 schools at each year level and up to 27 students within each school. The nationally representative sample at each year level was made up of about 2,300 students (see Appendix 1, Technical Information 2016 report).

A programme was designed with three data gathering components to gain a broad understanding of learning languages – international languages, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) and te reo Māori.

Table 1: Components of the 2016 NMSSA Learning Languages Programme
Note:
  1. *Applied only to year 8
Component 1: Student Questionnaire

Focus

  • attitudes to learning an international language* and te reo Māori
  • learning experiences in an international language* and te reo Māori at school

Approach

  • computer-based
  • completed by 2,300 students at each year level
Component 2: Teacher and Principal Questionnaires

Focus

  • views of international language and NZSL instruction in their school*
  • views of te reo Māori instruction in their school
  • teacher confidence as an international language* and te reo Māori educator
  • professional learning and development in international languages*, NZSL, and te reo Māori
  • provision for teaching international languages*, NZSL, and te reo Māori in the school

Approach

  • paper-based
  • completed by more than 230 teachers at each year level and 91 principals at each year level
Component 3: Achievement in Te Reo Māori

Focus

  • knowledge and understanding of te reo Māori words and phrases

Approach

  • group-administered tasks mainly presented by computer
  • completed by 2,300 students at each year level


The Te Reo Māori (TRM) assessment incorporated the three overlapping strands of learning languages: communicative competency, language knowledge and cultural knowledge. The main emphasis was on language knowledge associated with curriculum level 1 (Taumata 1). Achievement on the TRM assessment was reported on a measurement scale that covered both year levels. The scale was divided into four performance ranges Taumata 1 - Wāhanga 1 (step 1) to Taumata 1 - Wāhanga 4 (step 4).

Other data were collected through questionnaires completed by students, teachers and principals. Questions relating to international languages were included only at the Year 8 level, where there is an expectation that students will have opportunities to learn international languages.

This report draws on the contextual information from the questionnaires to provide key findings across the learning languages area of the NZC (international languages, NZSL, and then te reo Māori). It also explores associations between achievement on the TRM assessment and contextual factors for te reo Māori.

Key findings about learning languages

The teaching and learning of languages

International languages

Sixty-one percent of the students in the Year 8 sample were learning an international language at school in 2016. French and Spanish were the international languages most frequently offered by schools. These were closely followed by Japanese and Mandarin.

Students' attitudes to learning an international language were generally positive. They were more confident in their abilities to speak and understand what they hear in their preferred international language than to read and write it.

A smaller proportion of Māori students, compared with non-Māori, felt that learning an international language at school was 'important' or 'very important' (60 percent compared with 72 percent, respectively). A smaller proportion of Māori students were learning an international language (53 percent compared with 64 percent of non-Māori students). Māori students tended to be less confident about their preferred international language, compared with non-Māori students.

Compared with all students, greater proportions of Pasifika students agreed with statements about their attitude to and confidence in an international language, and also reported more frequent learning experiences. Almost half of Pasifika students were learning a Pasifika language.

Of the teachers who reported teaching an international language (either as a specialist or by incorporating it into their classroom programme), 87 percent rated learning an international language as 'important' or 'very important'. The main reasons they gave for these ratings were that learning an international language helped students develop an understanding of other cultures and languages, and that it was useful for a range of purposes (such as building students' self-confidence and career possibilities in the future).

Sixty percent of teachers of an international language reported their students spend 20 hours or less learning that international language over the school year.

The leading factor that helped principals decide which international language(s) to offer was having an existing staff member who could teach it. A specialist language teacher was employed in 40 percent of schools, most often to teach Mandarin, Japanese, French, or Spanish.

The findings relating to teacher PLD were mixed. Sixty-five percent of principals indicated their teachers had access to PLD opportunities to support their own language learning, and 59 percent agreed that teachers had access to PLD to support their teaching of an international language. However, given a list of professional interactions with other teachers or experts more than 30 percent of teachers indicated that they had never or almost never been involved in each interaction. Thirty-nine percent reported they had never had external PLD focused on the international language they were teaching.

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL)

Very few teachers at Year 4 or Year 8 reported having any students in their class with whom they needed to use NZSL. Nonetheless, 20 percent of teachers in the Year 4 sample and 8 percent in the Year 8 sample incorporated planned instruction in NZSL in their programme. The majority of teachers rated the professional support they received in school for teaching NZSL as 'poor' or 'very poor'.

Just over two-thirds of principals at each year level rated learning NZSL at school as 'somewhat important'. Many acknowledged NZSL as an official language of New Zealand, but had no immediate need to use it, or felt the curriculum was already crowded. Many principals indicated they would make learning NZSL a higher priority if they enrol a student at their school who needs to use NZSL to communicate.

Around two-thirds of principals rated their school's provision of opportunities for students to learn NZSL as 'poor'. About a quarter of principals indicated that teachers in their school have access to PLD opportunities to support their own learning, and their teaching of NZSL.

Te Reo Māori

From students

At both year levels, singing waiata was the learning experience that students were most likely to report happened very often, while talking to their classmates in te reo Māori in the playground was the least likely. Greater proportions of Year 8 than Year 4 students indicated they never took part in kapa haka, and never read books or websites written in te reo Māori.

All students responded to a set of statements about their attitudes to learning te reo Māori and a set of statements about their confidence in learning te reo Māori. The majority of students at both year levels expressed positive attitudes to and confidence in learning te reo Māori. A greater proportion of students at both year levels expressed confidence in their ability to hear and speak te reo Māori, and to use the language in performances, than to read and write in te reo Māori. This was also true for Māori students.

From students' responses to each set of statements, an IRT scale was constructed. These were called the Attitude to Te Reo Māori (ATRM) scale and Confidence in Te Reo Māori (CTRM) scale, respectively.

The average score for Year 4 students on the ATRM scale was higher than for Year 8. At both year levels, the average score for girls on the ATRM scale and the CTRM scale was higher than boys. This was also true for Māori students.

Māori students at both year levels were more positive about learning te reo Māori, on average, than non-Māori. This difference was greater at Year 8 than at Year 4. At both year levels, greater proportions of Māori students than non-Māori students thought it was very important to learn te reo Māori. Overall, Māori students reported more frequent te reo Māori learning experiences than did all students. Māori girls scored higher on average than Māori boys on the ATRM scale at both year levels.

From teachers

Most teachers (97 percent at Year 4 and 88 percent at Year 8) rated students learning te reo Māori at school as 'important' or 'very important'. Reasons given by some of the teachers who thought this was less important reflected a belief that there were other more pressing learning priorities for their students. Teachers' responses indicated that more Year 4 students than Year 8 students spent over 20 hours learning te reo Māori during a school year. ā

The majority of classroom teachers (97 percent at Year 4 and 88 percent at Year 8) said they incorporated teaching te reo Māori in their programme as planned instruction, as well as incidentally. Most teachers thought they were able to draw on students' backgrounds and experiences to support their learning of te reo Māori and indicated they like teaching te reo Māori. At both year levels, 31 percent of teachers' responses indicated they could not hold a simple conversation in te reo Māori.

Singing waiata, taking part in kapa haka and saying karakia were the three te reo Māori experiences most often provided for students at school.

More than half the teachers at both year levels reported they had had PLD that focused on te reo Māori within the last two years, with 10 percent of Year 4 teachers and 21 percent of Year 8 teachers reporting they had never had this kind of PLD. Over half the teachers had 'never or almost never' observed a colleague teaching te reo Māori.

From principals

A large majority of principals thought it was 'important' or 'very important' for students to learn te reo Māori at school. During 2016, about 45 percent of principals in both the Year 4 and Year 8 samples said they employed specialist language teachers to teach te reo Māori.

At both year levels, most principals (80 percent) indicated all students were offered an opportunity to learn te reo Māori at their school. Nine percent of principals in the Year 4 sample and 14 percent in the Year 8 sample indicated some students at their school were offered this. But this was not always the case. For principals in the Year 4 sample, 11 percent indicated no students at their school were offered an opportunity to learn te reo Māori at Year 4. For Year 8, the figure was 6 percent.  

Achievement in te reo Māori

At Year 4, 13 percent of students achieved in the two highest scoring bands used to report achievement on the Te Reo Māori (TRM) scale (Taumata 1-Wāhanga 3 and Taumata 1-Wāhanga 4). At Year 8, 51 percent of students achieved in these bands.

The difference between the average scores on the TRM scale for Year 4 and Year 8 students was 21 TRM units. This represents an annualised difference of about 5 TRM units. Five TRM units can be understood as the amount of 'progress' associated with 1 year of instruction.

Boys scored, on average, 6 TRM units lower than girls at Year 4 and 8 TRM units lower at Year 8.

At both year levels, Māori students scored higher, on average, than non-Māori (by 13 and 20 TRM units, respectively). At Year 8, Pasifika students scored higher, on average, than non-Pasifika students (by 6 TRM units).

At both Year 4 and Year 8, the average score for students from low and mid decile schools was higher than the average scores for students from high decile schools. At Year 4, the difference between the average scores for students in the low and high decile bands was 4 TRM units. At Year 8 it was 10 TRM units.

At Year 8, the average score for students attending intermediate schools was 3 TRM units higher than for those attending full primary or secondary schools (Year 7 to 15).

Achievement of priority learner groups

Māori students

At Year 4, 564 Māori students were assessed in te reo Māori using the TRM assessment and 511 at Year 8.

The average score for Māori students on the TRM assessment was 99 TRM units at Year 4 and 126 TRM units at Year 8.

Māori girls scored higher, on average, than Māori boys at both year levels (by 9 and 6 TRM units, respectively).

At Year 4, Māori students in mid decile schools scored 5 TRM units higher than those in high decile schools. At Year 8, Māori students in mid and low decile schools scored higher on average, than those in high decile schools by 10 and 9 TRM units, respectively.

Pasifika students

At Year 4, 300 Pasifika students were assessed in te reo Māori and at Year 8, 306.

The average score for Pasifika students on the TRM assessment was 89 TRM units at Year 4 and 116 TRM units at Year 8.

The average score for Pasifika girls at Year 4 was 6 TRM units higher than for Pasifika boys. At Year 8 it was 10 TRM units higher.

At both year levels, Pasifika students in mid decile schools scored higher, on average, than those in low decile schools (by 7 TRM units). Other differences between the average scores for students attending schools in different decile bands were not statistically significant.

Students with special education needs

There were 140 students with special education needs assessed in te reo Māori at Year 4 and 113 students at Year 8. Most of these students were classified as having moderate needs.

The average TRM score for students with special education needs was 76 TRM units at Year 4 and 100 TRM units at Year 8.

Associated with achievement in te reo Māori

Attitudes to, and confidence in, learning te reo Māori were both strongly associated with achievement  in te reo Māori. There were statistically significant positive correlations between TRM achievement scores and both the ATRM and CTRM scales scores at both year levels. The associations were stronger at Year 8 than Year 4, and stronger for CTRM than ATRM.  

Speaking te reo Māori at home

Around half of all students at each year level reported they never spoke te reo Māori at home. This compared with 26 percent of Māori students at Year 4, and 15 percent of Māori students at Year 8 who said that they never spoke te reo Māori at home. The difference in average achievement on the TRM scale between those who never spoke te reo Māori at home and those who often or always spoke te reo Māori at home was 12 TRM units at Year 4 and 17 TRM units at Year 8. For Māori students, how often they spoke te reo Māori at home was also associated with achievement, but to a slightly lesser extent than for all students.

Footnotes

  1. Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.
  2. Ministry of Education. (2009). Te Aho Arataki Marau mō te Ako i Te Reo Māori – Kura Auraki: Curriculum Guidelines for Teaching and Learning Te Reo Māori in English-medium Schools: Years 1-13. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
  3. Royal Society of New Zealand. (2013). Languages in Aotearoa New Zealand
  4. New Zealand Government. (2017). Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017.

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