Pupils who transfer from a weak school to a top-performing institution improve their maths marks by 28%. And if they are black‚ their language scores go up 12%.
Researchers at Stellenbosch University say they have proved the link between good schools and high marks for the first time by following the same pupils in the Western Cape for six years.
In one group‚ they monitored test results in grades 3‚ 6 and 9‚ and in the other they followed pupils who were in Grade 6 in 2007 through to matric in 2013.
“The impact of attending a top-performing school for learners between grades 3‚ 6 and 9 is approximately a year’s worth of learning‚ based on mathematics test scores‚” said Marisa von Fintel and Servaas van der Berg‚ from the economics department at Stellenbosch.
The researchers used the Western Cape’s centralised education management information system to track the same pupils’ results even when they changed schools. They treated 347 of the province’s 1‚480 schools as top performers based on the results of standardised language and maths tests written at the end of grades 3‚ 6 and 9.
“We know … that there is substantial mobility of learners between schools in the Western Cape‚” said Von Fintel and Van der Berg‚ writing in the Stellenbosch journal Research on Socio-Economic Policy.
“Using this fact‚ and identifying learners who switched between schools‚ in some cases the same learners can be observed as they attend a low-performing (and generally poorly functioning) school and again as they attend a high-performing school.
“For mathematics‚ the results seem to indicate that attendance of a top-performing school improves the test scores of a learner by approximately 28%. The equivalent improvement in language test scores is approximately 6%.”
Black pupils’ language scores improved by 12%‚ and the researchers said this was probably because they received more exposure to English and Afrikaans — the languages in which they were tested — at top schools.
The research also found that pupils who started receiving the child support grant during the study improved their marks. And it showed that schools in poorer areas struggle to produce good results.
Von Fintel and Van der Berg said their findings “illustrate again how divided the school system is. Learners from poor households … are more likely to not achieve a diploma or bachelor’s level pass in matric.”