Ngā hononga kura-whānau e puta ai ngā ihu o ngā ākonga Māori

Using evidence in inquiry


One of the major themes that emerged from the Ruia exploratory study was the importance of schools using data rigorously throughout inquiry to clearly understand the initial situation, to monitor how teachers and students respond to new learning, to find out what the changes have been during a cycle of inquiry, and to establish priorities for further investigation.


Inquiry is about building knowledge and about regulating our learning. We need to know what is important to focus on to meet our outcomes. What do we know now, and what do we just think we know? This section is intended to prompt thinking about the use of data when building educational partnerships through inquiry-based learning.

Selecting and analysing data

Currently, many schools collect a great deal of information about their students, but often it isn’t used to drive improvement (Hattie, 2005). Useful data helps teachers and school leaders to understand:

  • what students need in order to achieve outcomes that the school community has identified as important
  • where students stand in relation to national patterns of progress
  • in what areas students need support to catch up with others in their year group.

Collecting data in connection with less tangible (such as sociocultural and affective) outcomes is more difficult, requiring close observation and learning conversations with students, parents, and whānau.

Schools also collect data about teacher knowledge and practice, and they should be collecting information about their relationships with whānau. The key to using this data effectively is to connect it to both data on student goals and outcomes and data about school-wide needs and priorities.

Bishop and Glynn (1999) remind us that “culture counts”. In deciding on the data to collect, schools need to take into account the aspirations of whānau and the knowledge and skills that they regard as important, including cultural knowledge, practices, and language. What are those aspirations, and what data do you need to collect to find out whether they are being achieved? This may not be the same across different Māori communities and whānau. Partnership begins by asking questions and listening actively to the answers.

Data collection and analysis

The Inservice Teacher Education Practice (INSTEP) project identified three steps in the data collection process:

  1. Deciding what information is needed
  2. Choosing appropriate tools
  3. Using the tools.

The first step means that schools need to disaggregate their data for Māori students and for specific cohorts of Māori students (for example, boys versus girls). That data then needs to be organised in ways that make it accessible for all those with responsibility for student learning, including whānau, to make sense of its implications. Data does not become evidence until it has been analysed for what it reveals about the efficacy of current beliefs about teaching and learning and of the practices that result from these beliefs. This analysis is more than understanding statistics – it means asking where students are, why they are there, and what teachers, leaders, and whānau can do, individually and collectively, to help them do better.

INSTEP further describes the analytical process as one of “making sense” of the data that has been gathered. This needs to be done within an analytical framework, such as the one afforded by the Teacher Professional Learning and Development BES (Timperley et al., 2007). INSTEP describes three steps embedded within the critical analysis of data:

  1. Drawing initial inferences on the basis of our expectations
  2. Asking deeper, more complex questions in order to make sense of the data
  3. Making decisions about where to go next.

ERO and data analysis

The Education Review Office (2011) describes data analysis in terms of three “levels”:

The first level of analysis is the gathering of raw or aggregated data. Some of the data will be quantitative/numerical and some will be qualitative/narrative. The data describes “what is” or “what is happening”.

The second level of analysis takes data and turns it into information. It allows schools and kura to make key statements or comparisons. It is used to inform people or planning. It describes “what is significant”. 

The third level uses this information as evidence to support judgements “how well/to what extent”, to make decisions “if this is so, then we need to …” and to decide priorities “the most compelling need is …”

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Building confidence with data

The process of selecting and analysing data, which occurs throughout the inquiry cycle, can make people feel vulnerable. A key theme from the Ruia exploratory study was that teachers and school leaders should not be afraid of the data. Rather, they should feel supported as they build their confidence in working with data and understanding what it is telling them about the next steps for them and their students.

It is important to keep the data alive as part of the ongoing inquiry. This means organising and storing so that it is easily accessible and enables students’ progress to be tracked. Increasingly, student management systems are evolving to allow trends and patterns to be studied over time. For example, users can identify attendance patterns and which students are not attending. Teachers, leaders, and whānau can then collaborate to address the issue.

A good way of making the monitoring of progress more manageable for teachers is to select a small group of Māori students in each class as ‘focus students’ for more intensive tracking. This does not mean that other students are ignored; in fact, experience shows that this raises teachers’ awareness of how their practice impacts on all their students.

School leaders who are committed to educationally powerful partnerships ensure that parents and whānau can use this tracked information so that they, too, understand their children’s progress and can participate in identifying their next learning steps. (Note, though, that it remains important to respect students’ right to privacy.)

Conducting inquiries

Ki te Aotūroa: Improving Inservice Teacher Educator Learning and Practice (INSTEP) is intended primarily for inservice teacher educators (ISTEs) but includes a wealth of material useful for all educators, particularly for school leaders. For example, a chapter on the practical aspects of inquiry examines each phase of the inquiry and knowledge-building cycle. The cycle is adapted for ISTES, but the big ideas that underpin it are true for all inquiry-based learning. Of particular value are the links to cases from actual practice that illustrate ISTEs supporting teachers and school leaders to inquire into and improve their practice.

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