Social Studies: 2014 Overview

Publication Details

In 2014, 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) – English: reading and social studies. This report is an overview of the results for social studies. It is supported by five additional reports that look at results for priority learner groups, explore contextual data more deeply and provide technical information related to different components of the study.

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

Date Published: July 2016

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Executive Summary

In 2014, NMSSA assessed achievement in social studies using a series of performance and interview tasks administered individually by teacher assessors to approximately 800 students at Year 4 and Year 8. Item response theory was used to create a measure of achievement in social studies called the Nature of Social Studies (NSS).

The NSS construct focused on students' achievement on three aspects: conceptual understanding; active participation in society; and values and perspectives. The aspects covered the four conceptual strands of the social sciences learning area in the NZC (i.e., identity, culture and organisation; place and environment; continuity and change; and the economic world). The NSS aimed to give researchers a method of measuring students' progress in an incremental way as the social sciences learning area in the NZC does not have a hierarchical structure of incremental steps that students must pass through. The NSS scale was aligned to the levels of the NZC through a curriculum alignment process that defined minimum scale scores (cut-scores) associated with achieving, on balance, the objectives outlined at curriculum levels 2, 3 and 4.

Other data were collected through questionnaires from students, teachers and principals. For this report, we draw on evidence from the NSS measure and two sections of the student questionnaire: attitudes to social studies; and opportunities to learn in social studies. The questionnaires were answered by approximately 2,200 students at each year level. Information from the student, teacher and principal questionnaires is investigated in a separate report (Social Studies 2014 – Contextual Report).

Key findings

Overall achievement

Sixty-three percent of Year 4 students achieved above the minimum score on the NSS scale associated with achieving curriculum level 2 objectives. Thirty-eight percent of Year 8 students achieved above the minimum score on the NSS scale associated with achieving curriculum level 4 objectives.

The curriculum expectation at Year 4 is that students will have, on balance, achieved level 2 objectives by the end of the year. In Year 8, they will have, on balance, achieved level 4 objectives by the end of the school year. The NMSSA assessment was carried out in Term 3. Therefore, we could expect a greater proportion of students at each year level to have met or exceeded the minimum score on NSS for the appropriate curriculum level by the end of the year.

Variation in achievement by student-level and school-level variables

Year 8 students scored, on average, 33 scale score units higher than Year 4 students. This difference indicates that New Zealand students make, on average, about 8 scale score units of 'progress' per year between Year 4 and Year 8. The difference is equivalent to an effect size of 0.41. The difference in the average scores for Year 4 and Year 8 students represents a similar effect size to that recorded in several other NMSSA studies (e.g., science, English: writing, mathematics and statistics, and health and physical education).

School decile and student ethnicity were strongly associated with achievement in social studies at Year 4 and Year 8. Students from low decile schools scored lower, on average, than those who attended high decile schools. The differences were approximately equivalent to the average 'progress' over about 2 years of schooling.

Māori, Pasifika and non-NZ European students scored lower, on average, than non-Māori, non-Pasifika and NZ European students, respectively. The differences were approximately equivalent to the average 'progress' over 1 to 2 years of schooling. The differences at Year 8 were smaller and more consistent across the groups.

Māori and Pasifika students were more likely than other students to attend mid and low decile schools.
A regression analysis indicated that score differences related to ethnicity could be detected after decile was taken into account.

There were no differences in achievement on the NSS scale between average scores for boys and girls, or between school types.

When scale score differences between Year 4 and Year 8 are taken as a proxy for 'progress', there is relative consistency in Year 4 to Year 8 'progress' across gender, ethnicity and school decile groupings. There is some indication that Pasifika students have made more 'progress' on average between Year 4 and Year 8 than non-Pasifika students.

The NMSSA includes students with special education needs in the assessment programme. Participating schools identified students' special education needs using three categories: High Special Education Needs; Moderate Special Education Needs; and On Referral. At Year 4 and Year 8, the average score for the combined group of students with special education needs was lower than students with no special education needs. The progress between Year 4 and Year 8 for students identified with special education needs was slightly lower than those with no special education needs.

Attitudes and opportunities to learn

Generally, Year 4 students had more positive attitudes to social studies than Year 8 students. This pattern is consistent with findings in other learning areas reported by NMSSA (English: writing, science, mathematics and statistics) and the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP).

At Year 8, there was a detectable association between achievement and attitudes to social studies. Students who were more positive about social studies scored higher, on average, than those students who were more negative about social studies. However, at Year 4, there was no discernible relationship.

The majority of students, including students with special education needs, reported frequently experiencing a range of experiences and opportunities related to learning in social studies at school.

There was a detectable association between achievement and opportunities to learn in social studies when students talked about and discussed their ideas with other people in social studies; felt good about giving their opinion and ideas in social studies; and (for Year 8 students) were able to think about and discuss what they have done in their social studies topics.

Footnotes

  1. School decile is reported in terms of low, mid and high bands. The lolw band comprised students in decile 1-3 schools, the midband comprised students in decile 4-7 schools and the high band comprised students in decile 8-10 schools.
  2. NEMP Otago University website.

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