Assessment in Primary Schools: A Guide for Parents (December 2008) 30/11/2008

3. Assessment Tools and Terms

This section describes assessment tools that teachers use. Teachers may sometimes use a combination of assessment tools to gain the best possible information about student achievement and progress. Teachers would not and should not use all the tools described here.

Finding Out More, Section 6, gives contact details and website addresses for organisations and websites referred to in this section.

The assessment tools and terms are in alphabetical order under the following headings:

Aro Matawai Urunga-ā-kura (AKA)

AKA is an assessment tool used by teachers in Māori immersion classes. Teachers use it to collect information on the skills, knowledge and understanding of five-year-olds entering school. Students are asked to do tasks that involve numbers, word knowledge, and telling a story they have heard. The information is used to give teachers accurate views of what students understand and to help them to plan programmes. AKA is a version of School Entry Assessment (SEA), (see separate listing in this section).

Assessment designed by the classroom teacher

Student learning is frequently assessed by tools and measures designed by classroom teachers. Teachers often plan activities to find out what their students know about a topic or how well they are managing a particular skill or strategy. It is not always necessary to prepare a written or formal test. Teachers may observe activities, evaluate work samples or interview students to find out about their learning. The teacher then uses the information gained to plan the next programme.

Some teachers work with other teachers to plan syndicate or schoolwide assessment.

The following extract from an ERO report illustrates how a school is using the information it gathers from individual teachers’ assessments of students’ reading.

Well-analysed assessment information is used appropriately to inform teaching and learning, especially for the group of targeted students. Reading running records are undertaken regularly and the information is used to inform programme planning. The effective planning models include specific strategies and teaching points for each group to guide teaching and learning.

Written reports to parents have been modified and mid-year reports now include next learning steps for students. This information enhances the home-school partnership in the learning process.

The board is receiving comprehensive reports about student achievement in reading which detail baseline assessment data according to gender and ethnicity. Such information assists the board in making decisions about allocation of resources and target setting.

Students identified with literacy learning needs, who are withdrawn for individual and small-group instruction, receive high quality support. These programmes are well planned and student progress is regularly monitored and assessed. Students demonstrate enthusiasm for their new learning.

- Education Review Report on a decile 4 contributing primary school

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Assessment Resource Bank (ARB)

The Assessment Resource Bank is a large collection of on-line assessment tasks available to New Zealand teachers. The tasks are designed to assess learning objectives from Level 2 to Level 5 in science, mathematics and English. Teachers can select assessment tasks to suit a topic of study or the skills they wish to assess. They can use the detailed marking guides to show students how the tasks are to be assessed. The ARB tasks help teachers make sense of what students are doing and thinking, and then helps them to decide what to do next.

The following extract from an ERO report shows how a school is using resource bank material to determine how many of their students are reaching nationally expected levels of achievement.

The school is using the Assessment Resource Bank tasks to collect and analyse data in numeracy. The school’s analysed and interpreted data state that school wide, 86% of students achieved at or above the expected level in using New Zealand currency, and in using strategies to solve problems at a level appropriate for their age.

- Education Review Report on a small decile 4 primary school

Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning (asTTle)

asTTle gives teachers good information about their students’ achievement and progress in reading, writing and mathematics. The tool is specially designed for New Zealand students from Year 4 to Year 12, including those learning in Māori-medium.

The school is in the early stages of gathering data in reading using Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning (asTTle) and in spelling. This information is likely to provide good baseline data for setting future targets and measuring student progress in English.

- Education Review Report on a decile 8 contributing primary school

Assessment practices focus on gathering a range of valid information across the essential learning areas. A specific strategy to develop useful assessment tools for literacy and numeracy is also in place. The staff and RTM use the asTTle and Ngâ Kete Kôrero frameworks to guide the development of kura benchmarks for pânui and pângarau. Collated and analysed information identifies strengths and weaknesses of individual and groups of students. The board and staff use this information to provide targeted support and resources. Students’ learning needs are effectively monitored.

- Education Review Report on a small rural Kura Kaupapa Maori

There is useful information about asTTle on the on the Ministry of Education’s website, Te Kete Ipurangi.

Burt Word Reading Test (BURT)

The Burt Word Reading Test gives teachers a broad estimate of each student’s reading level. The result may indicate that testing with other assessment tools is required to find out more about supporting a student’s reading.

There is useful information about the Burt test on the Ministry of Education’s website Te Kete Ipurangi, under the heading Gathering Information.

Chronological age

In some reports or conversations, teachers may mention that a child is reading at, above or below their chronological age. This means that the teacher has used an assessment tool that determines the result as a level set for a certain age.

Diagnostic tests

Diagnostic tests are used to find out, or diagnose, what your child knows and can do.

Essential Skills Assessment: Information Skills (ESAs:IS)

ESAs:IS is a set of tests to check how well students can find information in books, graphs and tables, the library, different types of text and reference material. This testing is usually done when information skills are being taught.

There is useful information about ESAs:IS on the Ministry of Education’s website Te Kete Ipurangi, under Gathering Information.

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The New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars are selected examples of student work that show learning and achievement in relation to national curriculum levels.

Teachers use the exemplars to make judgements about their students’ work by comparing it with the national standards shown in the exemplars.

Teachers have used the national writing exemplars to assess student achievement from several samples of writing and have engaged in useful moderation discussions. Students are beginning to work individually with teachers to set and assess individual goals for improving written language achievement.

- Education Review Report on a small decile 6 contributing primary school


The most useful student goals are those that are set for individuals or small groups. When goals are short term, students are clear about what they are working on and are motivated when they achieve each goal.

Goal-setting is particularly useful when students are:

  • encouraged to set short-term goals that they can monitor and measure;
  • taught to set and self-assess realistic goals;
  • helped to plan the steps they might take to meet their goals;
  • given regular feedback about their progress toward goals;
  • given opportunities to develop or share their goals with their parents; and
  • encouraged to help their classmates to set and assess goals.

The following extract from an ERO report is about a school that has found goal setting useful.

Goal setting is a feature in most classrooms. Students can relate these goals to their learning and evaluate their progress against them. This practice assists students to manage their learning and is increasingly enabling students to identify their next steps in learning.

- Education Review Report of a large decile 3 contributing school

Junior Oral Language Screening Tool (JOST)

JOST is used to identify students who need further development in speaking. JOST is used to find out the level of a student’s vocabulary development, use of social language and understanding of simple grammar. The test is most often used during the student’s first year at school but it is suitable for older students.

Learning intentions

Some schools use learning intentions as a way for students to assess their own work.

Below is an example of the writing learning intention of a five-year-old student:
I am learning to write interesting sentences.
I will know I have done this when:

  • my sentences have some good describing words; and
  • my sentences make sense.

Teachers are using assessment information to match learning tasks to children’s capabilities. They are also using the information to develop specific intentions for learning that they are able to share with children, to guide their learning.

- Education Review Report on a decile 1 contributing primary school

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National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP)

Each year about three percent of all Year 4 and Year 8 students in New Zealand are randomly selected to be involved in testing for a particular curriculum area.

If your child is selected to participate in NEMP testing, you will receive a letter asking for your permission.

The results of NEMP assessments are published and sent to schools. They do not give information on individual students’ achievements or the results for individual schools. Teachers use NEMP test items to compare their students’ achievement with the national results.

Nationally referenced exemplars, such as those made available through the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) and assessment resource banks, are used to ensure that teacher judgements about student achievement across the curriculum are consistent with national expectations.

- Education Review Report on a decile 9 intermediate school

There is more information on the NEMP website and on the Ministry of Education’s website.

Normed assessments

A normed assessment tool is one where the results have been standardised so teachers can compare their students’ results with those of other New Zealand students.

Schools use a variety of normed assessment tools to suit different purposes as shown in the extract below.

School-wide assessment tasks have been carefully considered for their usefulness, manageability, and relevance to students. Effective use is made of data from entry assessments, six-year nets, norm-referenced literacy tests, standardised spelling tests and national writing exemplars to analyse achievement trends for cohorts and ethnic groups. Writing assessments against the national exemplars are moderated for validity and consistency between syndicates and year levels. Reports on the analysis and variance of achievement targets include next steps for teaching and learning.

- Education Review Report on a decile 10 full primary school

Numeracy Project Assessment (NumPA)

NumPA is a diagnostic assessment tool that gives teachers information about number knowledge and strategies. There is a version of NumPA (Te Poutama Tau) for students in Māori immersion classes.

Teachers have high expectations for the achievement of students in mathematics. For numeracy, teachers use a range of tools to assess students. They give priority to assessing students’ progress. Assessment tools include the Numeracy Project Assessment (NumPA), numeracy “snapshots”, and PATs in mathematics.

- Education Review Report of a large decile 7 full primary schoo

There is more information about NumPA on the Te Kete Ipurangi website under the heading Assessment Tools.

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Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS)

PIPS is a CD-ROM based programme which assesses reading and mathematics achievement and progress for Year 1 to Year 6 students. There are also science PIPS for students in Year 6.

There is more information on the PIPS website.

Progressive Achievement Tests (PAT)

PATs are standardised tests developed by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER). There are PATs for Year 4 to Year 10 students in reading comprehension, reading vocabulary and mathematics. There is a listening comprehension PAT for Year 3 to Year 10 students. Schools use PATs early in the school year.

The PAT results provide teachers with information about the student's progress compared to other New Zealand students. PAT results can also be entered into the NZCER website so teachers can compare and print out many different types of reports that show what skills each student has already achieved and what they should learn next.

A comprehensive range of assessment methods is used to measure and report on individual student achievement in literacy. Assessment information includes results of reading running records, PAT and ESA tests and asTTle writing assessments, as well as teacher assessments against writing benchmarks. Teachers make assessment judgments using clear criteria at each level informed by curriculum exemplar materials. Examples of student work are assembled in individual files to provide evidence of progress. Achievement information is regularly shared with students in classrooms and with parents through written reports. Student learning needs are well catered for through identification from assessment.

- Education Review Report on a small decile 5 full primary school

There is information about PAT on the Te Kete Ipurangi website and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research website.

Proof Reading Tests of Spelling (PRETOS)

PRETOS are used in some schools to find out how well students can find incorrectly spelt words in a piece of writing.

PRETOS produces two scores, one for recognising the errors and another for correctly spelling the word. This information can help teachers set and discuss individual word study or spelling goals to help students improve spelling in their written work.

There is information about PRETOS and other spelling tests on the Te Kete Ipurangi website, under the heading Gathering Information.

Reading Running Records

Running records are used to assess the reading progress of students who are developing confidence with reading fluency. This tool is mostly used in junior classes.

The student reads a passage aloud to the teacher who records how the student reads each word. The record shows details of mistakes, changes made and the way the child goes back to make sense of a phrase.

Teachers share running record results with parents as part of reports, portfolios or parent-teacher interviews. This helps the parent to find strategies the student could practise at home.

Running records are used effectively as a major assessment tool to inform groupings and programme planning in reading. High quality targeted support is provided for students who are not reading as well as they should be.

- Education Review Report on a large decile 4 contributing primary school

There is information about running records on the Te Kete Ipurangi and the Team-Up website.

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School Entry Assessment (SEA)

SEA is a standardised assessment procedure that can be used to collect information on the skills, knowledge and understanding of new entrants. The teacher usually tests children about four to eight weeks after they have started school.

Often schools use SEA, JOST and NumPA and some teacher-made assessment in areas such as alphabet knowledge to give a detailed picture of what skills new entrants’ already have reading, writing, language and numeracy. Each child has different skills when they start school and it is important for teachers to know what first steps the school should focus on.

In many schools teachers share all the assessment information collected during the first few weeks at school with parents at a special interview. During this interview the teacher and parents may discuss progress and set future social and learning development goals.

All parents of new entrants have a meeting with class teachers after eight weeks. Parent-teacher conferences for all students take place twice a year. An informative weekly newsletter keeps families up to date with school and class events, and gives helpful hints on parenting. Class teachers also send frequent and detailed newsletters to parents. Many parents visit the school regularly and make informal contact with teachers.

- Education Review Report on a large decile 7 contributing primary school

There is information about SEA on the Te Kete Ipurangi website.

Six Year Net or Six Year Observation Survey

The six-year observation survey is a comprehensive assessment of each six-year-old child’s progress in reading and writing. The six-year net helps teachers to find students who have reading difficulties early.

In many schools parents are invited to an interview to discuss the information from the six-year observation survey and how both teacher and family can help the child to make progress.

Many schools do this kind of survey. The following is an example from an ERO report.

Data on reading achievement from the Six Year Information from Observation Survey of Early Literacy, are collated and analysed. In 2004, these data were used to help senior leaders identify specific year groups where significant numbers of students were not achieving at the levels expected for their age. The 2004 data were also used to identify the significant number of students (18 percent) who read at more than two years above the levels expected for their age.

- Education Review Report on a large decile 4 contributing primary school

Spelling tests

There are many published tests with lists of words for children to attempt to spell. Teachers also make their own tests from words that have come up in classroom topics and activities. Some schools use tests that provide information about a student’s spelling age.

Spelling is best assessed by teachers’ observations of students’ written work or by using tests that help teachers decide the particular skills a student needs to improve his or her spelling.

Supplementary Spelling Assessment (SSpA)

The SSpA has two parts and is used mainly for students in Years 4 to 6. The first part tests six different aspects of spelling and can also provide teachers with information about a student’s progress compared to other New Zealand students.

The second part is designed for students that find spelling difficult. It is used to help teachers find out what skills these students need to practise to help them spell more accurately.

There is information about SSpA on the New Zealand Council for Educational Research’s website.

Supplementary Test of Achievement in Reading (STAR)

STAR was developed by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER). It identifies students who need extra help in reading. Teachers also use the information to group students for reading.

STAR can be used more than once a year so teachers can check on progress and find out how well their reading programmes are helping students improve.

Achievement information, based on the Supplementary Tests of Achievement in Reading (STAR), running records and the Progressive Achievement Tests (PATs) for listening, reading comprehension and vocabulary, is collated school-wide and thoroughly analysed twice a year.

- Education Review Report on a decile 4 contributing primary school

There is information about STAR on the Te Kete Ipurangi website, under the heading Gathering Information, and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research’s website.

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