Findings

This section presents ERO’s findings in relation to the effective practices and processes that teachers, leaders and school trustees used to accelerate the progress of students achieving below or well below the National Standards. The coherence of schools’ overall response to accelerate these students’ progress is also discussed.

Teachers with highly effective practices

When children start school each child’s literacy and numeracy experiences and knowledge differs. Some will progress quickly and others may need periods of more deliberate and tailored teaching to accelerate their progress. To do this teachers need to identify the skills and concepts each child needs more practice with and the contexts they could use to maintain the child’s interest while reinforcing the skill or concept.

Teachers need extensive knowledge of each of the curriculum areas in which the student needs to accelerate their progress. Teachers need knowledge of:

  • the student’s strengths, interests and what they have already learnt
  • the skills and knowledge that students need to acquire, and the usual patterns of progress learners make with these aspects or concepts
  • a range of instructional strategies and processes they could use to teach the student
  • relevant contexts for learning
  • how well their teaching practices are contributing to the student’s achievement and progress.

ERO found that teachers in 28 percent of the schools in this evaluation demonstrated the use of many highly effective strategies to accelerate students’ learning (see Table 1). In some schools this use of highly effective practices in classrooms across the school was despite a lack of guidance and support from school leaders.

Table 1: Teachers’ contribution to improved outcomes for priority learners

The extent to which teachers contributed to improved outcomes for priority learners

Percentage of schools

To a great extent

28

To some extent

51

To a limited extent

20

Not at all

1

Teachers with many highly effective practices used assessment datawell to identify those students for whom they needed to accelerate progress. They had good knowledge of their students’ strengths and needs. Teachers developed flexible, responsive learning plans for individuals and groups of students. They were reflective practitioners and followed an inquiry cycle of teaching and learning by using assessment data to review the impact of their teaching, and changing their strategies as necessary.

Teachers in this group used a range of appropriate teaching strategies. They were deliberate in their teaching choices to ensure students developed the specific literacy and numeracy skills or knowledge that they required. This teaching included:

  • modelling successful approaches, strategies or ways of solving problems that students could apply when working independently and in groups
  • opportunities for students to critically talk about what they are learning and how they are learning
  • prompting students to remind them of strategies or skills they had successfully used before
  • questioning to clarify or expand the students’ thinking
  • giving feedback about what has been mastered and what the student should focus on next
  • explaining the specific details about concepts or skills on which the students needed to focus.

They used these strategies both for individual and group teaching.

These teachers made judicious use of external support such as RTLB (Resource Teacher: Learning Support), learning support teacher and reading recovery teacher without ignoring their primary responsibility for accelerating the student’s progress. The external specialists suggested appropriate strategies for use in the classroom, or provided some one-to-one teaching that the teacher followed up in their classroom programmes. In a small number of cases teachers supervised teacher aides to support the student in targeted activities that reinforced classroom learning.

Information Communication Technologies (ICT) and associated commercial programmes were used judiciously and were targeted to meet a specific skill or concept, rather than being central to the learner’s programme. Teachers were selective in tailoring strategies to reinforce the concepts individuals needed to practise.

The highly effective teachers had a strong focus on ensuring their students understood how they could apply their learning in different contexts across the curriculum. They used strategies such as modelling books to make effective literacy and numeracy learning explicit for students, and to identify the next learning steps for individuals and groups. These books also provided a venue for recording and reviewing teachers’ reflections. Teachers ensured that students had ready access to child-friendly exemplars or achievement indicators that assisted them to measure their learning and progress. Effective teachers encouraged students to reflect on, and explain, their own learning.

Teachers developed partnerships with parentsand whānau to support students’ learning. Parents joined with students and the teacher in planning the students’ next learning steps. Teachers supported and guided parents and whānau by providing them with strategies to continue their child’s learning at home through daily notebooks or parent evenings where aspects of the school’s learning programmes or assessment processes were shared.

These teachers were proactive in identifying teaching skills that they needed to develop and sought out professional learning and development (PLD) to enhance these. They were not satisfied with ‘business as usual’ and were constantly looking for new and more effective ways of accelerating students’ progress.

Principals and trustees had confidence in the assessment-based judgements these teachers made regarding students’ strengths and needs. The students which they identified they needed to provide extra support for in the school’s charter target corresponded to the students identified in classrooms. The achievement information which teachers provided to leaders showed the specific concepts or skills their students had mastered and those they needed support with next.

Leaders with highly effective practices

Leadership was a key factor in developing the strong cohesive direction that was found in highly effective schools. People who provided leadership in this area included the principal, senior leadership team, lead teachers in literacy and mathematics, learning support teachers and, in some schools, the Special Needs Coordinator (SENCO).

In 29 percent of the schools, ERO identified that leaders were actively promoting improved outcomes for priority learners (see Table 2). Some of the highly effective practices discussed below were also found to some, or to a limited extent in other schools in this evaluation.

Table 2: Principals’ contribution to improved outcomes for priority learners

The extent to which principals contributed to improved outcomes for priority learners

Percentage of schools

To a great extent

29

To some extent

37

To a limited extent

33

Not at all

1

Principals used achievement data effectively to identify priority groups, to monitor their progress and to evaluate the impact of programmes and systems over time. They drew on the knowledge that their teachers had of individual students in these analysis processes. Leaders benefitted from having information about the specific teaching points that needed to be reinforced, rather than just knowing the numbers and names of students below the National Standards.

The highly effective principals supported staff with clear assessment guidelines and fostered the use of an inquiry-based approach to teaching, learning, and subsequent responsive planning. Leaders identified teachers’ professional learning needs and provided relevant development opportunities. In many cases principals drew on the expertise of curriculum leaders within the school to target professional learning for individual staff members to support them in planning to improve individual student’s achievement. Leaders provided staff with formative feedback provided by themselves or by other staff with particular expertise. They facilitated a collegial approach for staff to plan tailored actions for students’ programmes and to review student progress and the impact of particular strategies.

In this role principals were often well supported by SENCOs, learning support teachers and curriculum leaders. In some schools the SENCO took on the role of monitoring the progress of students identified as needing extra support. In one school the SENCO reviewed teacher planning for the students’ priorities in the school’s targets. Together with learning support teachers, they often worked with teachers to develop and implement appropriate programmes and strategies to teach the concepts they wanted the student to learn. Enthusiastic and capable literacy and mathematics leaders also contributed to this planning and review process.

Trustees with highly effective practices

Figure 1 illustrates the cycle of data-based target setting and review which the Ministry of Education suggests boards of trustees should follow. This cycle uses achievement data to identify students needing support to progress, and to set targets related to accelerating their achievement. Boards also need to monitor the progress of these target groups throughout the year to help them evaluate the effectiveness of their initiatives.

Figure 1: Board of trustees cycle of target setting and review[5]

Figure 1 is a diagram called Board cycle of target setting and review. It has two cicles, one inside the other. The outer circle is labelled clockwise from the top right as Principals and their staff collect reliable data from assessments and teacher knowledge.  This helps to determine the levels of students and groups of students who are not achieveing the level they should be.  Considering this information forms the basis for your targets. Analysis of the data shows where you need to focus your efforts to raise student achievement.  Your targets should focus on accelerating achievement of students who need more support and Review your targets - have you achieved what you set out to achieve? If not, why not? What is working well? What do you need to do differently next year? The inner circle is labelled clockwise from the top as Gathering evidence, working with data, Reading and analysing data and Target setting.

Seventeen percent of boards of trustees had processes that enabled them to focus to a great extent on improving outcomes for priority learners (see Table 3). These boards demonstrated all aspects of the above cycle of target setting and review. The boards also regularly monitored progress throughout the year to check that they were on track or whether further resources were needed.

Table 3: Boards’ contribution to improved outcomes for priority learners

The extent to which boards of trustees contributed to improved outcomes for priority learners

Percentage of schools

To a great extent

17

To some extent

49

To a limited extent

32

Not at all

2

In the boards with effectively used processes, trustees were kept well-informed by the principal about student achievement in general, and received well-considered recommendations for priority learners in particular. Trustees were committed to raising student achievement. They were active participants in the charter target-setting process and interrogated achievement data provided by the principal. They allocated appropriate resourcing for programmes to accelerate learning, based on this information.

These boards demonstrated a high level of accountability for students needing extra support. They regularly received data that enabled them to monitor the progress of groups included in the school’s charter target. They were very dependent on the quality of information provided by the principal. In a few cases trustees asked for more data if they felt they were not adequately informed, or they challenged the validity of the data. Well-established links were evident between achievement targets, the principal’s appraisal and, in some cases, teachers’ appraisal goals.[6]

An example of a highly effective school

The following example of a full primary school in an urban setting exhibits many of the effective practices discussed above. This school had developed processes and mechanisms that facilitated a collaborative and innovative approach to accelerating their priority learners’ progress.

Priority learners are identified by teachers in the first instance. Teachers work in learning hubs with up to 80 children and three teachers. They analyse achievement data together and share and discuss the information about the students. The analysed information about the number of students needing support and the specific skills and concepts they need to focus on is then provided to their senior leadership team. School charter targets reflect these students.

Teachers in the hubs collaboratively plan the learning programmes tailored for the needs and interests of individuals and groups of students. Teachers make specific decisions about how often priority learners need individual or group teaching time and what students need to master next. Teachers in the hubs use ‘thinking books’ to reflect on their teaching and the students’ learning. They frequently consider priority learners’ progress and achievement in their reflections to make decisions about what to teach next. 

Teachers document the progress of priority learners in school templates. Each of these learners has entries recorded under the following headings:

  • What is the shift that happened?
  • What intervention/s caused the shift?
  • Where to next?

These templates are filled in as part of review and reflection that occurs at staff meetings. Further charts record every student’s progress compared to expectations. Teachers move children on the chart as part of staff meetings. The process makes accelerating the progress of priority learners a collective responsibility as well as a collective celebration.

The senior leadership team promotes a belief that ‘the system needs to fit the child, not the child fit the system’. There is a culture in the school that teachers contribute too, that ‘we make a difference’. Staff are provided with ongoing professional development that has included aspects such as:

  • sessions on why some children make shifts and others don’t
  • what makes a difference for children’s learning
  • a parent-led session explaining what it is like to be a parent who has a child finding it difficult at school.

A large display on the staffroom wall records the key findings from PLD.

The board is well-informed about the achievement and progress of students. Trustees are able to speak about student achievement and progress with confidence, and board decision-making is based on this information. Meeting the achievement targets is included as a goal in the principal’s annual appraisal.

(A decile 9, urban Years 1 to 8 primary school)

The school in the example above demonstrates highly effective review and development processes that accelerated the progress of their priority learners. Teachers, leaders and trustees have a shared responsibility for these students and know which strategies work for them. They constantly monitor and celebrate student progress.

In 2011 the numbers of their students at or above the National Standards in reading and writing improved considerably as shown in Table 4.

Table 4: For the example school (above) – the percentages of students achieving at or above the National Standards

Literacy Area

February 2011

June 2011

December 2011

Writing

Data not recorded

67%

71%

Reading

51%

75%

82%