Socioeconomic Status and Student Achievement in Primary School Mathematics: A Case Study of Two New Zealand Schools
Existing research consistently identifies large differences in mathematics achievement between students from high and low socioeconomic status backgrounds. The link between socioeconomic status and student achievement has been repeatedly acknowledged throughout the literature, but reasons for this link are not yet fully understood. This study builds on existing international research, which identifies a large number of potential key influences for the disparity in mathematics achievement. The aim of this study was to identify which of the potentially key influences were possibly influencing student mathematics achievement in a high and a low decile New Zealand primary school, thereby suggesting ways to improve student mathematics achievement in the low decile school. Often, changes within education, including in many intervention programmes, are generic, made without identifying the specific needs of an individual school and its students. The tools developed during this research were designed to be used in schools, allowing evidence-based needs to be identified, and any changes made to be targeted at the specific needs of the school and its students. This research was conceived within a qualitative paradigm, and followed a collective case study design, focusing on two case schools, a high decile school (Pīwakawaka School), and a low decile school (Whio School). Data were collected through classroom observations, archival records, interviews, questionnaires, and physical artefacts, using tools specifically designed for this study. The data were analysed using grounded theory, allowing theories to emerge from the data. The data collected from each school were compared and two theories emerged. The first theory is that students in the high decile school appeared to be doing a greater amount of mathematics than students in the low decile school. The second theory is that students in the high decile school appeared to have more opportunities to learn new mathematics than students in the low decile school. Additionally, the findings suggested that, due to the complex nature of teaching, there was more than one key influence on student mathematics achievement contributing to each of these emergent theories. This research suggests that teachers at Whio School may be able to improve student achievement in mathematics by increasing both the amount of mathematics students interact with and the number of opportunities to learn new mathematics their students receive.