No streaming of mathematics students

Issue: Volume 98, Number 11

Posted: 27 June 2019
Reference #: 1H9vXh

Non-streaming of mathematics in NCEA Level 1 has achieved a marked increase in the number of Māori and Pacific students studying and achieving in the subject at Horowhenua College in Levin.

When head of mathematics Misbah Sadat arrived at the school in 2017, the NCEA Level 1 programme was spread over three types of classes: MATH1 (which includes algebra and graphing) and the lower level MAAP1 (applied mathematics) and MATC1 (third tier) classes.

“In 2017, Year 11 mathematics had 47 European students, 32 Māori students and eight Pacific students,” says Misbah.

Due to streaming, she says, the school had no Pacific students in the MATH1 class, and only 11 Māori students, compared with 33 European MATH1 students. In contrast, there were only three Europeans in the MATC1 class and 11 in the MAAP1 class.

MATH1 is the class that leads to algebra and graphing, and Misbah says that essentially all Pacific and 21 Māori students were unable to go on to enrol in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses. 

“Denying these students access to STEM courses means you have divided society into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’,” she says.

“Everybody needs to be given opportunities to succeed. I am not saying that everyone has to go towards STEM courses to succeed, but everyone should be given the opportunity to make that choice for themselves. My problem with streaming is that, unfortunately, many Māori and Pacific students end up in the bottom classes.

“If you decide that at 14 or 15, someone is incapable of doing algebra, you are saying they can’t have careers in engineering, medicine, computer science and other STEM professions, and I think that’s too early. 

Misbah says that New Zealand has a crisis in that there aren’t enough people in STEM courses and yet we are still streaming in mathematics and science. She says there isn’t a ‘shred of evidence’ that says streaming works for students at the bottom or the top. 

Removing barriers to achievement

At the end of 2017, the college decided not to stream Year 11 mathematics and English. 

“Instead we used differentiation in our classrooms and proved that it is possible to teach different standards in the same class,” says Misbah. “Yes, it was hard work, but totally possible.

“I was very lucky I had a senior leadership team who took the risk to do this and I had a team of incredible teachers who were behind this 100 per cent. We had multiple standards happening in the class at the same time. We taught everyone but we offered an additional standard for those who didn’t want to sit externals,” she explains. 

At the end of 2017, instead of streaming, all students were put in mixed classes for 2018.

“We were quite prepared that we may not get stellar results but, in actuality, students surprised us,” says Misbah. “Previously, because they had been placed in those lower classes, we had put a glass ceiling on their achievement.”

It has been hard work getting students to feel confident, Misbah says.

“It didn’t matter what we said to our students in MATC or MAAP classes. This is what we heard over and over – ‘Nah we can’t get merit or excellence, Miss’.  It broke our hearts because even though the data and the placement of these students told us these students were not capable, we found no evidence of that in our teaching.”

Misbah and her team are particularly proud of one bright Māori student who, despite being in MATC1 in Year 11, carried on in mathematics and is now taking STAM3 (Level 3 Statistics). 

Motivation is catchy

One of the most noticeable benefits of abolishing streaming was that there are now fewer behavioural issues in the Year 11 mathematics classes.

“The level of engagement went through the roof. When students see other students motivated, they follow. The whole atmosphere is now towards learning and what the students can, and will do.”  

Another side-effect of removing streaming was that all mathematics classes could be scheduled across the timetable so that students were in more evenly sized classes. 

What success looks like

Horowhenua College has found itself punching well above its weight in terms of the achievement of Māori and Pacific students nationwide.

In 2017, the national average for these students getting excellence in mathematics standards was 8–9 per cent, but Horowhenua College’s average was 4.6 per cent. In 2018, the national average for excellence for Māori students remained the same; however, on average, 24 per cent to 33 per cent of Horowhenua’s Māori students achieved excellence in different mathematics standards. 

Non-streaming had no impact on grades for Pakeha students, but the gain in achievement for Māori and Pacific students was ‘astounding’, Misbah says. 

Originally a journalist in Pakistan, her country of birth, Misbah came to mathematics later in her career. She says she has seen no evidence that streaming in the subject works.  

“In 2017, we did heavy streaming, but only 10 students ended up in the MATH2 programme in 2018, which is the class that those students are supposed to go into. This means that in 2019, we only have six students overall doing Level 3 calculus.

“By contrast, with no streaming in Year 11 in 2018, we currently have 24 students in MATH2 who opted in, compared to 10 the previous year. Hopefully this will lead to a higher number of students studying Level 3 calculus next year.

“This is a total team effort,” says Misbah. “I am incredibly proud of what my team was able to achieve last year.”  

Horowhenua College Principal Grant Congdon says, “After taking the brave step to not stream Level 1 mathematics students, Misbah and her team have then worked extremely hard to develop the mathematics potential in our students. 

“The results speak for themselves and we are very pleased with the gains our students have made – especially our Māori and Pacific students. As such, we will continue to non-stream our Level 1 mathematics classes.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:48 am, 27 June 2019

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