Overview

Teaching approaches and strategies that work

This evaluation looks at teaching approaches and strategies used in schools where there has been a significant increase in the number of students at or above National Standards in the upper primary school years (Years 5 to 8). We wanted to learn more about any short-term interventions or long-term strategies that may have been influential in bringing about these positive achievement trajectories. We have shared and discussed our findings from some of the 40 schools we visited.

Why did we undertake this evaluation?

National data shows that while many New Zealand children make good progress during their first three to four years at primary school the rate of progress slows during Years 5 to 8.

Like the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) before it, the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) has found that many more Year 4 than Year 8 students are achieving at the expected curriculum level. Its 2013 report on mathematics and statistics found that 81 percent of Year 4 students were achieving at or above the expected level (Level 2) while only 41 percent of Year 8 students were achieving at or above the expected level (Level 4). Its 2012 report on writing found that 65 percent of Year 4 students were achieving at or above the expected level compared to only 35 percent of Year 8 students. The results for writing were very similar regardless of gender, ethnicity, decile and school type.1

Figure 1: Percentage of students achieving in writing

Level

Year 4 (%)

Year 8 (%)

5

0

8

4

2

27

3

18

37

2

45

23

1

35

5

Source: NMSSA English: Writing report, 2012

asTTle (assessment Tools for Teaching and learning) data from schools using e-asTTle reveals a similar trend. By selecting questions that meet their specific criteria, asTTle allows teachers or leaders to create tests that differ widely in content, spread and difficulty. When test scores are generated, they take into account the level of the questions asked. The norms are not specific to curriculum level or question type but are derived from the combined data from all tests within an appropriate curriculum range.

Figure 2 shows e-asTTle norms for reading and mathematics by quarter. The norms are derived from data collected between 2007 and 2010, when the most recent calibration was done. The writing tool was fully revised in 2012 and the norms have changed to reflect this. Each of the asTTle levels is broken into three sublevels: beginning (B), progressing (P) and achieving (A). It is reasonable for a student to progress through three sublevels in two years. However, when a student needs to accelerate progress it is realistic for teachers and students to set a goal to move up by two sublevels in a year.

The rate of progress in reading begins to slow considerably in Year 4 where the mean scores indicate children remain at Level 2P for five school terms. The rate of progress in mathematics is particularly slow in Year 6 where the mean stays at Level 3P for five terms also.

Figure 2: asTTle norms for reading and mathematics

 

Reading

Mathematics

Year  level

Quarter

Mean  score

Mean curriculum level

Mean  score

Mean curriculum level

4

1

1301

2P

1358

2P

2

1306

2P

1364

2P

3

1317

2P

1375

2P

4

1333

2P

1389

2A

5

1

1346

2P

1400

2A

2

1360

2A

1410

2A

3

1372

2A

1420

3B

4

1390

3B

1430

3B

6

1

1403

3P

1441

3P

2

1416

3P

1451

3P

3

1425

3A

1460

3P

4

1426

3A

1466

3P

7

1

1430

3A

1472

3P

2

1436

3A

1479

3A

3

1447

4B

1489

3A

4

1453

4B

1500

3A

8

1

1462

4B

1512

4B

2

1474

4P

1521

4B

3

1489

4P

1529

4P

4

1494

4P

1535

4P

Source: e-asTTle norm tables Sept 2010

International assessment studies confirm a decline in the rate of progress in the upper primary school years and show that this pattern continues into secondary school. According to recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data, the reading achievement of our 15 year olds is on a steady decline and New Zealand is one of very few countries in which the mathematics and science achievement of 15 year olds is on a trajectory of accelerated decline. PISA data also shows that within the same school, young people can experience widely divergent opportunities to learn. This within-school inequality is amongst the highest across the countries that participate in PISA assessments.

To ensure that students are achieving at the expected curriculum level by the time they leave primary school, there must be change, particularly in the upper years. Declining rates of achievement must be reversed so students are prepared for the demands of the secondary curriculum and, later, for success in further education and employment.  

Accelerated improvement requires a whole system to function as a collaborative learning community that is advancing progress on the four areas of leverage: pedagogy, educationally powerful connections, professional learning and leadership.
Alton-Lee cited in Mathematics in Years 4 to 8: Developing a Responsive Curriculum

Recent ERO publications have identified variability in these four areas of leverage means that, within and across schools, children experience widely divergent opportunities to learn. The relevant reports and publications are:

Accelerating the Progress of Priority Learners in Primary Schools (2013)

Accelerating the progress of priority learners in primary schools (2013)

This report found that 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 developed partnerships with parents and whānau to support students’ learning. They were reflective practitioners and proactive in identifying the skills they needed to develop.

Raising achievement in primary schools

Raising achievement in primary schools (2014)

The effective schools in this report were highly strategic and evaluative when trialling new approaches and innovations. Factors that contributed to their effectiveness in accelerating student progress were leadership capability, teaching capability, assessment and evaluative capability, the capability to develop relationships with students, parents, whānau, trustees, school leaders and other teaching professionals and the capability to design and implement a curriculum that engaged students.

Raising student achievement through targeted actions (2015)

Raising student achievement through targeted actions (2015)

This report found that effective schools had a clear line of sight to the students most at risk of underachieving. They knew who to target and what actions to take to accelerate progress. They monitored their actions to see if they had the desired outcomes for the students. Other factors contributing to success included a strong commitment to excellence and equity, leadership, teamwork and quality professional learning conversations and capacity building with the aim of sustaining improvement.

Educationally powerful connections with parents and whānau

Educationally powerful connections with parents and whānau (2015)

Through conversations with parents and whānau, teachers aimed to learn about each child in the wider school and home context and then use their knowledge to develop holistic learning goals and authentic contexts for learning. In the best instances, teachers involved parents and their child in setting goals and agreeing on next learning steps. They responded quickly to information gained from monitoring progress. They persisted in trying to find ways of enabling students to succeed and to involve the parents of those at risk of underachieving.

Wellbeing for children’s success at primary school (2015)

Wellbeing for children’s success at primary school (2015)

In schools where wellbeing was a key focus, students were able to make decisions and be accountable for their outcomes. The school values were evident in actions, interactions and documentation. The wellbeing of all students was actively monitored and their individual needs responded to in a timely fashion. The curriculum was designed around valued goals and outcomes, and actively monitored. Within a high-trust culture and stimulating curriculum, teachers and leaders provided students with opportunities to participate, collaborate with others and be resourceful.

School Evaluation Indicators

School evaluation indicators: effective practice for improvement and learner success

Educationally powerful connections and relationships and responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunity to learn are the domains that have the greatest impact on outcomes for students. Their influence depends in turn on the quality and effectiveness of stewardship, leadership for equity and

excellence, professional capability and collective capacity and evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building for improvement and innovation. Effective schools are characterised by high-quality practices in all domains and by the coherent way in which they are integrated.

The most relevant school evaluation indicators are listed in each section of the investigative framework found in Appendix 1.

How did we undertake the evaluation?

In Term 4, 2016 we visited 40 full primary or contributing primary schools across New Zealand. These were selected from a database of 129 schools, with rolls over 200. These schools were chosen because increased numbers of students were achieving at or above National Standards in reading and writing or mathematics (or both) as they moved through Year 4 to Year 5. These schools’ achievement levels were also higher than the average for their decile.

Before each visit, we sent the school a set of discussion points and questions for leaders to consider. In many schools, the whole staff looked at the discussion points together and identified areas that we might want to investigate further.

At each school, we asked leaders what they saw as the reasons for their positive achievement trajectory. They then looked for evidence of the approaches and strategies used, and the outcomes, by:

  • talking with children, parents, teachers, leaders and, where possible, trustees
  • observing in classrooms
  • looking at documentation, student work, class displays and the school environment.

How is your school helping students to keep making progress after Year 4?

We would like to speak to school leaders to discuss your school’s achievement and are interested in how teachers, students, parents and trustees have been involved in any decisions or recent improvements.

We would like to discuss and investigate:

> Why you think you are getting achievement gains from Year 4 to Year 5 and beyond

> What is making the biggest difference:

  • at Year 5 (and beyond)?
  • in Years 1 to 4?
  • whole class, syndicate or school strategies?
  • small group or targeted interventions?

> Innovations that could be shared with other schools

> How you are using achievement information to decide what you need to work on, what has worked, and what you need  to continue doing

> The teaching practices that have contributed most to the improvements in your school.

  • What they are, where they are working best?
  • Why do you use these particular strategies or resources?
  • How do teachers share agreed or best practices to get consistency across year levels, syndicate or school?

> Internal or external professional learning initiatives that have helped resource improvement:

  • How they have helped?
  • What challenges have you experienced when implementing new strategies across the school?


The investigative framework used by the evaluators is in Appendix 1.


1 NMSSA reports are based on a nationally representative sample of approximately 2000 students from each Years 4 and 8.