A range of international and national reports demonstrate that while the New Zealand education system has provided excellent outcomes for some students, overall improvement has been inconsistent, with significant groups missing out. In particular, the system has not altered the inequitable educational outcomes for a large number of Māori and Pacific students, students who have special education needs, or students from low income backgrounds.
The challenge for New Zealand’s education system is to bring more students to a higher achievement level, with a broader skill range and more equity of outcomes than ever before. In response to this challenge, the Government’s education targets include 85 percent of 18 year olds achieving National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Level 2 or equivalent by 2017. To support this target, the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) is also focusing on accelerating the progress of Years 1 to 8 students who are achieving ‘ below’ or’ well below’ national standards in mathematics, reading or writing for their year group. The national standards signal the reading, writing and mathematics curriculum expectations that will enable students to engage with all learning areas, and are reference points for the overall goal of confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.
Māori and Pacific students are over-represented in the ‘below’ and ‘well below’ standards groups. For example, in 2012 the total number of students achieving ‘at’ or ‘above’ reading national standards was 76.2 percent, but only 68.2 percent of Māori and 62.8 percent of Pacific students were achieving ‘at’ or ‘above’ the standards.
ERO has undertaken several national evaluations to determine how schools are using The New Zealand Curriculum and the national standards to improve all students’ educational outcomes. ERO has also investigated how schools have provided targeted support and whether they are doing something that works for the students underachieving.
ERO’s 2013 evaluation on mathematics in Years 4 to 8 found teachers in most schools could identify students who were not achieving but continued to apply the same strategies, programmes and initiatives even though they had not worked. Few had evidence that these approaches actually accelerated progress. ERO concluded that:
Given the significant investment schools are making to raise achievement for priority learners, there needs to be more robust self-evaluation of the effectiveness of resourcing decisions. Bringing about such a change could lead to considerable system-wide improvement in New Zealand schools. (Page 23)
Another 2013 ERO evaluation found highly effective teachers of Years 1 to 8 students:
The evaluation also found highly effective principals:
These evaluations highlight that educators need to know how to use assessment information to trigger a teaching and learning response. Many teachers and school leaders need to change what they are doing if it is not working for some students.
This report builds on these earlier evaluations and focuses on how well schools are responding to achievement information. In particular, it explores the quality of schools’ teaching and learning responses to meet the needs of students who are underachieving.
The Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) provides a coherent set of dimensions across leadership, professional learning and development (PLD), and teaching with strong evidence for improving outcomes for diverse (all) students. The BES system improvement and capability building agenda (Alton-Lee, 2012) provides a model for school improvement that will lead to this vision. The model has four levers which, together, can drive change:
Many schools provide some sort of additional instruction to accelerate students’ progress so they can catch-up to their peers and access the school curriculum. Research has shown that these additional practices:
.....can neither substitute nor compensate for poor-quality classroom instruction. Supplementary [additional] instruction is a secondary response to learning difficulties. Although supplementary [additional] instruction has demonstrated merit, its impact is insufficient unless it is planned and delivered in ways that makes clear connections to the child’s daily experiences and needs during instruction in the classroom.[Snow et al., 1998, pp. 326–327]
School curriculum and effective teaching need to link classroom learning and the supplementary learning to ensure students’ additional experiences do not run parallel (or behind) the classroom experiences. This relationship is shown in the following diagram. Often the most appropriate supplementary support is within the classroom.
Figure 1: Using teaching as inquiry to trigger supplementary support for students