Exemplar Review - Hokowhitu School - January 2019



Under Part 28 of the Education Act 1989 the Chief Review Officer has the power to administer reviews either general or relating to particular matters, of the performance of applicable (pre-tertiary) organisations in relation to the applicable services they provide, and prepare reports on the undertaking and results of such reviews.

An exemplar report may be produced when ERO finds an organisation demonstrates effective practice in relation to specific aspects of performance.

Effective Practice: Reading Approaches and Strategies that work

ERO reviewed Hokowhitu School to investigate the teaching approaches and strategies that have led to considerable improvements in reading achievement in Years 5 and 6. In particular, we wanted to learn more about any short-term interventions or long-term strategies that the school had implemented which may have been influential in bringing about these positive achievement trajectories.

Hokowhitu School was selected from a database of 129 schools, with rolls over 200. The school was chosen because increased numbers of students were achieving at or above standards as they moved through Year 4 to Year 6. The school’s achievement levels were also higher than the average for their decile.

Before the review, we sent the school a set of discussion points and questions for leaders to consider. We asked leaders what they saw as the reasons for their positive achievement trajectory. We 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.

Context: Progress and Achievement in Years 5 to 8

Reading is a critical skill that enables children to engage with all aspects of The New Zealand Curriculum. Reading proficiency provides a doorway into the world. Children’s success in all learning is largely the consequence of effective literacy teaching. Literacy learning builds cumulatively on each learner’s existing proficiency.

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) found that many more Year 4 than Year 8 students are achieving at the expected curriculum level. The 2014 NMSSA reporton English: Reading showed that similar percentages of children at Year 4 and Year 8 scored above the minimum score associated with their expected curriculum levels. This is different to many other curriculum learning areas where considerably fewer children achieve as well in Year 8 as they do in Year 4.

Although many New Zealand students achieve well, by international standards our results are not improving when compared with other countries. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS-2016) results highlight minimal progress and then a decline in achievement in reading since the beginning of the century. Out of English speaking countries New Zealand had one of the largest ranges in reading ability.

Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning (asTTle) norm data indicates the need for many children to progress through the levels more quickly in upper primary school. If most children were progressing well, our national norms would show changes of about three sub-levels every two years. However, data for the reading asTTle norms for the 2010 cohort indicated that the achievement trajectory does not ensure most children will reach Level 4A by the end of Year 8.

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 recentProgramme 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 where informational reading was a weakness relative to our overall reading performance. 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.

Exemplar: Ensuring more children achieve success when initially learning to read

Leaders at Hokowhitu School aimed to increase the numbers of children achieving well in reading by improving their reading programmes in Year 1. Teachers collaboratively analysed their reading data and focused their Professional Learning and Development (PLD) and changes in practice on the specific needs they identified.

They also extended intervention programmes they knew worked to make them core programmes for more children. They set clear expectations for the skills children should master as they moved through the junior readers.

This narrative shares some of their strategies, data analysis processes and teaching expectations.

During the previous five years, the school had gone through considerable leadership, teaching and environmental changes. Teaching was now more innovative, taking place in flexible learning spaces where children at most year levels worked in teaching pods with three teachers. The children had increased choice about how and what to learn. Crucially, robust systems were put in place to make sure evidence informed all initiatives and changes to practice. Leaders carefully monitored impacts, and extended successful changes across the school so they became expected practice.

Although much of the teachers’ PLD had an across-the-school focus, the key changes in reading occurred for children in Year 1. Leaders wanted all children to have early success in reading that they could then build on in future years. They were not satisfied with the reading results they were getting and believed that if more children were successful in Year 1, more children would be successful in Years 5 and 6.

Planning the developments

During 2014, teachers and leaders looked carefully at the reading data for five- and six-year-old children, and saw that teachers had to support many children to catch up in their second year at school. Less than 60 percent of children had reached the expected reading level when they turned six. By the time children turned seven, about 80 percent reached the expected reading level, but some of them weren’t able to sustain their improvements.

Leaders noticed a discrepancy between the identified reading levels of some children. The levels identified by the Reading Recovery teacher were often higher than those identified by the pod teachers. Leaders also saw that sometimes children’s progress wasn’t sustained after they were withdrawn from the Reading Recovery programme. They wanted to have more children succeed in the teaching pods with fewer requiring withdrawal from their class for intervention programmes.

In 2015, the board of trustees set an annual school improvement target to have all learners reach or exceed the reading expectations after their first 40 weeks at school. Before the start of the school year, leaders met with the teachers from the Year 1 teaching team and the Reading Recovery Teacher and decided to take the following actions to make the desired improvements:

  • Access and implement PLD to improve the links from reading to writing, and to access any other reading PLD available.

  • Introduce parent education sessions for parents of four- and five-year-old children.

  • Improve the monitoring of children’s progress and introduce portable data boards to highlight progress to discuss at team meetings.

  • Teachers were to view the practice of colleagues and/or specialists teachers of reading.

Monitoring expectations

  • All students to have a running record completed within two weeks of starting school.

  • Regular discussions at staff/team meetings about reading skills, motivational text and experience.

  • Team leaders to minute discussions/findings/results about reading from team meetings and share with senior leadership team.

  • Data analysed and reported to board in March, July and November.

  • Reflection at leadership level – how are we going, who needs more support, who is having real success we should be learning from?

  • Support for teachers who have students not making progress with the expected parameters.

Resourcing expectations

  • New reader/resources specifically targeting beginning readers.

  • Time to release staff for observations and feedback.

The monitoring focused on both the children’s and teachers’ progress. Leaders were keen to not only support teachers with additional PLD, but wanted to learn from the teaching responses that had contributed to the greatest improvements.

Collaborative analysis of assessment data collected in March identified two issues. The first was that many children had difficulty with one-to-one finger pointing when they started school. They introduced more one-to-one pointing activities with colour charts and mathematics activities to help reinforce this skill.

The second issue came from an analysis of the Observation Survey(Six year-net) results. Some of the children who scored within the expected stanines, for most of the subtests, had been previously identified as reading well below the expected reading level. The teachers discussed the discrepancies and ways to resolve them.

Setting and monitoring the expectations

Teachers then attended a series of PLD workshops about reading along with other PLD provided by their regional Reading Association. The workshops provided teachers with a wide range of deliberate acts of teaching to focus on as children progressed through the junior reading levels. Leaders added these practices into the school’s curriculum guidelines that detailed teaching expectations.

Teachers also used the processing behaviours described in pages 10 and 11 of The Literacy Learning Progressions to remind them of other processes children should be becoming confident with during their first year at school.

Teachers increased their monitoring and urgency for all children to succeed. They created a data board that identified the names and reading levels of children that weren’t making the expected progress. During team meetings, teachers referred to the data board and each child’s progress was discussed. Teachers reviewed their current practices and suggested other teaching practices to support the children. Children as young as five years and two months were identified to start instructional interventions that focused on early literacy related sub-skills such as alphabet sounds and names. Collaborative analysis of data helped identify successful strategies as well as individual children’s progress and achievement.

Leaders identified one programme where considerable success was evident and extended this to more children. The programme provided groups of children with early decoding strategies through a greater emphasis on mastery of letter sounds and names, and high frequency words. Teacher aides originally took a 15 to 20 minute dailyEarly Wordsprogramme they had adapted from other programmes. However, once the positive results were evident, leaders changed the programme from an intervention to part of the core teaching programme so the successful strategies would benefit more children. Details of theirEarly Wordsprogramme are shared below.

The school’s own adapted Early words programme

The programme included children learning and practising the following:

  • letter SOUNDS (followed by letter names)

  • the correct formation of lower case letters

  • segmenting of sounds in words followed by the blending of sounds to problem solve an unknown word

  • HEART words (words that learners need to know ‘off by heart’ as you can’t use letter sounds to solve the words e.g. the, was) are learned to be recognised and written instantly and are spelled aloud using the letter names

  • other basic words are solved and remembered through the segmenting/ 

Improvements weren’t immediately evident during the trialling and introduction of many of the strategies in 2015. However, considerable progress occurred in 2016. 

Leaders expect these improvements will positively influence the numbers of children enjoying reading and achieving successfully in Years 2 to 6.

Why is this exemplar important?

It is vital all schools have organisational structures, processes and practices that enable and sustain collaborative learning and decision making and are designed to continuously improve student achievement.

Many schools are able to describe a wide variety of programmes and strategies they are implementing, yet often with little knowledge about which of these are contributing to improved achievement. It is just as important to know what is working as it is to know what the achievement issues are. Schools that focus deeply on a small number of areas or systematically practise teaching as inquiry are better able to identify approaches that warrant continuation or extension. They are also better able to monitor the impact of new strategies to determine whether and how effectively they are working to accelerate the progress of students who have been achieving below expectations.

The schools with considerable improvements in reading achievement undertook carefully considered whole-school or whole-syndicate review and development. They completed assessments that identified the challenges for children and teachers and then accessed professional learning and development (PLD) that focused specifically on the teaching that needed to improve. Well-considered improvement plans outlined individual responsibilities, actions and associated timelines.

Leaders used a variety of strategies to make sure teachers understood the reading processes children experienced across the school. Teachers collaboratively developed clear expectations about the content of their reading programmes and the children’s expected progress. Deliberate teaching actions were outlined, implemented and then monitored by leaders.

Recommendations for system improvement

ERO recommends that school leaders continue their improvements and share with other schools their approaches related to:

  • Leadership for excellence and equity

  • responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunities to learn

  • professional capability and collective capacity

  • evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building for improvement and innovation.

Diana Anderson

Deputy Chief Executive Evaluation and Policy

On behalf of the Chief Executive/ Chief Review Officer

10 January 2019