Evaluating educational outcomes under the Northern Territory Emergency Response
An ACER analysis has revealed the literacy achievement of Year 3 students in schools within the Northern Territory Emergency Response communities has shown improvement that is greater than the improvement among Year 3 students in all Northern Territory schools and all Australian schools.
Last week the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) released an independent evaluation of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). Initiated in June 2007, the NTER is “a set of government initiatives designed to protect children, to make communities safer and to build a better future” for the 45 000 Indigenous Australians living in communities and town camps in the Northern Territory.
The independent evaluation of the NTER is a requirement of the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement, the expiration of which in 2012 also marks the end of the NTER. Each chapter of the evaluation report was prepared by independent authors from some of Australia’s most prominent analytical organisations. ACER researchers Dr Sheldon Rothman, David Slattery, Dr Sarah Buckley and Dr John Ainley prepared the chapter titled, ‘Enhancing education’.
ACER examined the results of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) from 2008 to 2010. The analysis showed that the mean scale score in the Year 3 Reading domain in the NTER schools improved from 173 in 2008 to 205 in 2009, then improved again slightly to 208 in 2010. During the same period, the percentage of Year 3 students who were at or above the national minimum standard increased from 18 per cent in 2008 to 28 per cent in 2009 and 41 per cent in 2010.
The authors found that, while there is no definitive evidence of improvement in Numeracy or Writing, it is probable that results in Year 3 Numeracy also indicate improvement. And while there has been improvement in Reading at other year levels as well, it is not as pronounced as at Year 3. However the authors acknowledged that many of the efforts to improve teacher quality under the NTER and Closing the Gap agreements would take time to have an impact and therefore student outcomes attributable to the NTER may not be readily observed in the first two years of NAPLAN results.
The report also examined school attendance. It found there has been no observable improvement in school attendance between 2006, before the NTER was introduced, and 2010, the last full year for which data are available. School attendance did show some improvement in 2008 and 2009 but then declined in 2010. Examination of the 2011 school attendance figures when they become available would be necessary to determine if that decline is absolute or if it was related to other factors, such as the extremely wet conditions experienced over most of the Northern Territory during the year.
ACER’s report also discussed a number of other programs that aim to increase the resources allocated to schools serving the NTER communities. The authors found that, while there have been increases in infrastructure, including new classrooms and teacher housing; in teacher professional support; in preschool programs; and in support for student wellbeing and nutrition, it was not clear whether these increases can be attributed to the NTER alone.
The report concludes that, at this time, it is too early to determine the effects of efforts to improve the quality of teaching on student outcomes, as there has been little opportunity as yet for new teachers to enter the NTER schools, for the effects of professional development to flow through to the classroom or for new teacher housing to influence teacher turnover or the quality of teaching.
The full evaluation report, Northern Territory Emergency Response Evaluation Report 2011, is available from the FaHCSIA website: http://www.fahcsia.gov.au
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