The assessment of student achievement ‑ examining and using information about students’ know and can do ‑ is fundamental to both effective teaching and successful learning. In New Zealand, there is a wide range of tools and approaches available to leaders and teachers. When properly administered and analysed, these tools can produce robust and reliable information that trustees, teachers, leaders, and students can use to make improvements.  Many provide both formative assessments to determine what children have learnt and their next learning steps, and summative assessments to benchmark how students compare with the rest of the student population.

This report highlights that, although considerable improvements have occurred in the collection and use of assessment in primary schools over the past decade, some schools continued to face challenges in improving the quality of their assessment practices. In the schools where leaders and teachers understood and valued the place of assessment, they introduced useful and manageable systems that benefited teaching and learning. At the other extreme, teachers collected assessments that were not well administered, analysed, moderated or used for improvement. This variability reduces opportunities for system‑wide improvements in New Zealand schools. 

Where schools were using assessment well, they were clear about the intent of each assessment and used it for multiple purposes. Teachers moderated their judgements across the school, and increasingly used the Progress and Consistency Tool to moderate and inform teaching decisions. Teachers used their assessment information to determine teaching steps for each student, to improve their own practice and to recognise what was working well and should continue. Teachers fully involved students in assessment processes by:

  • sharing all results with them
  • helping them set related goals
  • teaching them concepts related to their goals
  • involving them in deciding when they had met their goals.

They often used additional assessment with students at risk of not achieving to find out more about their challenges and strengths, and shared the assessments with parents and whānau. Leaders collated the assessment results and identified needs, to determine improvement targets and recommendations for boards to consider. Trustees asked challenging questions about the data, used the information to make resourcing decisions and received regular progress reports towards clearly defined goals.

Leaders play a significant role in improving outcomes for students by:

  • establishing clear and robust goals and expectations
  • resourcing strategically
  • designing, evaluating and coordinating the curriculum and teaching
  • leading professional learning
  • ensuring the environment is orderly and supportive.

To achieve this, leaders need high quality data‑literacy skills to make defensible decisions. Without such skills, collection and use of assessment can reduce teaching time, negatively impact on students’ wellbeing and inhibit boards of trustees’ decision making. Some leaders need further support to improve their data literacy, so they can recognise and correct poor practices and develop more useful and manageable ones. Training to improve leaders’ data literacy is a priority.

Some leaders and teachers placed limited emphasis on reliable assessment tools. Some lack understanding of how to use the results for both formative and summative purposes. Confusions also exist about how and when to administer the tools. Both moment‑by‑moment and more informal assessments are vital, but should be used with other more formal tools that would allow trustees, teachers, leaders, students, parent and whānau to understand how well students are achieving and progressing. The Literacy Learning Progressions (Ministry of Education, 2010) and numeracy assessments provide teachers in the junior school with expectations they should confidently use, in combination with other formative and summative assessments. Teachers of Years 4 to 8 should also use either PAT or asTTle for reading, writing and mathematics, in combination with other informal assessments, to collect and use formative and summative information. However, ERO discourages the use of the tools above for summative purposes only.

Assessment in primary schools has recently focused on reading, writing and mathematics, to help children develop the literacy and numeracy skills needed to fully engage with the whole curriculum. Some schools are also usefully identifying samples of work that demonstrate students’ confidence with Key Competencies from The New Zealand Curriculum. It is now timely to consider extending assessment practices, to determine how well students are applying their skills to meaningful tasks from other curriculum areas, such as social studies, science and technology. Additional support is needed to make sure all teachers can undertake useful assessment in these areas, and respond to the assessment information with timely and appropriate practices.

Overall, we acknowledge the considerable improvements many primary schools have made in their use of assessment over the past decade. Further work is required to make sure all schools collect and use assessment data effectively to benefit all students.