Findings

The findings of this report are presented under the above headings:

Reviewer comments are in italics.

The quality of assessment practices

The assessment of student achievement and progress, examining and using information about what each student knows and can do, is fundamental to effective teaching and learning.

The National Administration Guidelines [5] outline that each board, through the principal and staff, is required to gather assessment information that is sufficiently comprehensive to enable the progress and achievement of students to be evaluated. Boards are expected to then use the assessment information to identify learners and groups of learners who are not achieving, or who are at risk of not achieving, and, identify aspects of the curriculum which require particular attention. They must also develop and implement teaching and learning strategies to address the needs of students and aspects of the curriculum they have identified.

In evaluating the quality of schools’ assessment practices, ERO considered the:

  • types of assessment information gathered by schools
  • quality of the student assessment information gathered by schools
  • use of this assessment information.

ERO found that schools had collected different sorts of achievement information about Pacific learners, and that this information varied in its quality. A quarter of secondary schools analysed how Pacific learners achieved in mathematics and reading. Less than 20 percent investigated Pacific learners’ achievement in writing and only six of the 52 secondary schools had high quality assessment information regarding other areas of the curriculum.

Primary school leaders and teachers were more likely to analyse information about the achievement of Pacific learners than those in secondary schools. For primary schools with Pacific students, approximately 50 percent had collated information on Pacific student achievement in mathematics and reading. A third of primary schools had also collected data on Pacific students’ writing. Only 14 primary schools (eight percent) had assessment information about Pacific learners in other curriculum areas.

ERO found that the likelihood of schools collecting and analysing Pacific learners’ assessment data was not affected by the size of their Pacific student cohort. However, some differences were evident in the types of analyses that were undertaken, between schools with large or small groups of Pacific learners. For example, schools with large Pacific cohorts were more likely to examine group patterns across the school. The number of students meant that they could compare the progress of Pacific learners with the rest of the school and identify strategies that could support the achievement of the wider Pacific cohort.

Schools with large cohorts of Pacific students could also examine the achievement of groups within the Pacific cohort. For example, schools could check to see how ‘Samoan boys’, who were also English as a second-language (ESL) learners, were achieving and identify strategies in response to any issues.

The school has introduced a learning coach programme where the coach is provided with achievement information about their students. At the beginning of the year the learning coach meets with each student and their family/parents to collaboratively develop goals and targets for the student. The goals are both personal and achievement focused.

(Low decile secondary school with high proportion of Pacific students)

Where schools had relatively small Pacific cohorts, effective assessment processes involved responding to the needs of individual students rather than just examining how the test results of a small Pacific cohort compared with other groups at the school. By starting with the individual interests and progress of each Pacific student, school leaders could also identify any development themes.

There are clear guidelines for teachers about assessment and planning and teachers are well supported to use assessment data to set targets for individuals and groups. Students have individual goals which are set and reviewed every few weeks, especially at Years 5 and 6. Students are able to tell how they look at their work to see progress.

(High decile contributing school with low proportion of Pacific students)

The importance of looking at individuals in the analysis of Pacific student achievement is underlined by ERO’s findings on the analysis and use of achievement data by secondary schools. Secondary schools were often found to have completed New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) data analyses of Pacific student achievement, without having developed any appropriate plans or strategies to improve learning or teaching. School leaders were, therefore, not breaking down the data sufficiently to look at what supported Pacific learners to achieve or fail. As a result, their response to Pacific student achievement data was typically a generalised strategy or professional development programme that did not support teachers to understand how to respond to the language, culture and identity of individual Pacific learners in the classrooms.

In some of the most effective schools, senior leaders and teachers had established additional strategies to complement their NZQA information by implementing ongoing assessments and monitoring throughout the year. This included providing opportunities for learners to know about how well they were progressing and how to contribute to their own learning and progress.

Teachers analyse data as a whole school and identify next steps for teaching. This enables them to analyse their own class data and use this to set achievement targets, and make resourcing decisions so that their programme planning is responsive to Pacific students’ identified learning needs.

(Low decile contributing school with a high proportion of Pacific students)

During the time of this evaluation schools were beginning to work with the National Standards. Leaders and trustees were looking at their achievement data to set targets for 2011. ERO found some examples where schools were using the introduction of the National Standards for teachers to focus on Pacific students’ achievement.

Students go through their assessment and set targets in relation to the National Standards. They identify their next steps to achieve their goal of working at or above expected levels. Teachers use cases and research from the Best Evidence Synthesis for the Teaching of Students from Diverse Backgrounds. Teachers share the achievement data with parents of Pacific students. They talk over the child’s strengths and their next steps. Teachers also share where the child sits in relation to the National Standards. Students are also shown their assessment data and where they should be at in relation to the National Standards.

(Medium decile full primary school with three percent Pacific students)

Pacific students are achieving at and above National Standards in reading, but below national standards in mathematics. Trustees, teachers, parents and students have used this information to inform professional learning and development in mathematics. Students and parents have used the information to set learning goals with the teacher. Parents have been advised how they can help their children at home.

(Small low decile primary school with 18 percent Pacific students)

Awareness and use of the Pasifika Education Plan (PEP)

As part of the evaluation for this report, ERO asked schools if they were aware of the PEP and how they were using it to promote student achievement and Pacific parent involvement in their children’s learning.

ERO found that of schools with Pacific students, very few were aware of and using the plan to inform their approach to improving Pacific student achievement. Of the 52 secondary schools in the sample, only four were aware of the plan and using it well, with another 14 making some use of the plan.

The PEP has been used as a lever for considering the next steps to improve learning. Actions based on the school’s goal to involve families more are having a positive impact on decisions about children’s next learning steps. The board chairperson is supporting Pacific trustees and community members better by arranging for the translation of key school documents in Pacific languages. It is hoped that this will help trustees and the community better understand what the school trustees, leaders and teachers are trying to do to improve outcomes for Pacific students.

(Low decile full primary school, with almost half of students Pacific)

Seven primary schools were making good use of the plan to inform their focus on Pacific students, while another 41 schools (23 percent) were making some use of the plan. More than half of the schools with Pacific students were not aware of the PEP.

In schools where the PEP was well used, school leaders, teachers, learners and parents had established strong home and school partnerships. Schools used the targets and goals in the plan to determine actions to create a better learning environment for Pacific learners. The plan gave schools a focus for discussing Pacific student achievement with their communities and informed their self review.

The leadership team has discussed the document and this has been used to develop the school’s Pasifika action plan which is currently being implemented. The plan has established the target of accelerating Pasifika achievement in literacy and has identified specific targets with strategies for implementation. These include: identification of and support for bilingual and ESOL learners, building on vocabulary, identification of students in assessment, inquiry into the use of student voice and promotion of cultural experiences.

(Low decile contributing school with a high proportion of Pacific students)

In some schools, leaders stated that the Pasifika Education Plan was not applicable to them. This was because they either had no Pacific learners enrolled or the Pacific learners attending their school were achieving well, therefore they felt the plan was irrelevant. Such a perspective is potentially alienating for any Pacific learners who may go on to enrol at these schools. School leaders and teachers may not have sufficient knowledge or processes in place for appropriately engaging with students and their families, or for responding to their individual cultures, languages and identities.

Pacific student engagement

Research consistently shows that the more time students spend involved in learning activities, the more they learn and the greater their achievement. The opportunity to respond is positively related to academic achievement. The more opportunities learners have to respond to a particular content or practise a skill, the better their understanding of the material or skill. [6]

Student engagement is widely accepted as critical to learning. The New Zealand Curriculum describes the importance of the school’s curriculum having meaning for students, and connecting students with their wider lives. Research identifies that cognitively engaged students would invest in their learning, would seek to go beyond the requirements, and would relish challenge. [7]

Sustaining and embedding positive progress is a collective responsibility. Learners should have the opportunity to know how well they are achieving in all their subjects and understand what they need to do to make progress.

In 2010 ERO found that a minority of schools had initiated programmes aimed at explicitly improving Pacific student engagement and learning outcomes. These programmes included increasing teachers’ and/or trustees’ knowledge of Pacific cultures, setting high achievement expectations, reinforcing effective teaching strategies, and making extra provision for English and/or Pacific languages programmes. Many initiatives had also been used by schools to integrate elements of Pacific cultures and languages into school and classroom programmes.

Here is a positive example of an initiative for improving achievement for Pacific students.

The collaborative culture in the school is providing opportunities for staff to talk about the significance of achievement data. ‘Teaching as inquiry principles’ are implemented to enable teachers to reflect on current practice and identify future teaching and learning actions. A teacher has a management unit to lead success for Pacific students to respond to the needs identified in the school’s achievement data. The lead teacher also provides advice about engaging students from different Pacific cultures.

(Medium decile full primary school with three percent Pacific students)

The situation in the 2012 evaluation was very similar to that of 2010. Only a small minority of schools effectively included Pacific themes and contexts in their curriculum and/or developed specific initiatives to support Pacific student engagement.

In many cases schools considered that school-wide initiatives would be enough to support Pacific student engagement, for example in numeracy and literacy. This lack of a focus and planning for the Pacific learners who were not achieving well is likely to contribute to the ongoing achievement disparities evident in national and international assessment data.

In some schools, positive initiatives found included the use of Pacific learning contexts, especially in social studies, music and visual arts. A few schools included Pacific languages and culture as separate subjects. Some schools also had staff members with responsibility for Pacific student achievement. These staff were involved in the analysis of Pacific student information and the development of specific strategies for learners who were underachieving. In a few schools such staff members were responsible for helping other teachers to develop their professional skills in supporting Pacific learners. Despite this, most schools did not analyse the effectiveness of these initiatives in terms of their benefits for Pacific learners.

Primary schools often had references to Pacific learners in the overarching statements of their curriculum. However, the use of Pacific contexts and themes was typically missing in classroom planning and practice. Similarly, while ERO often found evidence that Pacific learners had good relationships with their teachers, and that teachers in some schools were focused on meeting the individual needs of these learners, there was little evidence that schools actively developed their school’s curriculum to include contexts from the Pacific. For example, at one school a series of lessons about transportation in the past concentrated exclusively on the modes used by Europeans and gave no time to the ways in which Pacific cultures have travelled.

Here is an example of a school where Pacific contexts were clearly evident in class programmes.

Pacific contexts are highlighted in many parts of the school’s curriculum and include:

  • a social studies unit on sustainability that has a special focus on Tokelau and migration
  • drama studies in ‘Niu Sila’ in the New Zealand literature standard in Year 10.
  • media studies programmes that provide a wide choice of topics (such as Pacific radio) that Pacific students are able to select according to their interests
  • the science department encourages and has had success in getting students accepted for university scholarships for Pacific students
  • art students are encouraged to represent their own Pacific background.
  • library books about Pacific cultures or themes are labelled with a palm tree sticker for ease of identification.

(High decile secondary school with four percent Pacific students)

In order to promote the engagement and success of all learners, schools need to go beyond the assessment process and summative data to look closely at ensuring that the school’s curriculum provides relevant contexts that can engage learners from different cultures. In particular, including Pacific perspectives in the curriculum provides opportunities for Pacific learners to draw on their own knowledge of the world and to enable success through building on activities and experiences, with which they are familiar or confident.

Boards’ knowledge of Pacific student achievement

School leadership is integral to creating a positive learning culture for learners and staff. The vision and goals of a school can be successfully achieved if school leadership has the capacity to influence and drive change. The success of individual and groups of Pacific learners is highly dependent on the expectations school leaders set for the school.

In high achieving schools, successful leaders exert their influence on achievement gains through interpersonal relationships, structuring how teachers do their work, and securing and allocating resources that are aligned to the specific teaching practices they have determined will meet the needs of their students. To secure targeted teaching resources, leaders need to keep the board well informed of the achievement, progress and needs of groups, such as Pacific learners.

Few schools included anything specifically about Pacific students in their charter. In just eight schools a Pacific focus was evident in the charter. In five of these schools, consultation with the Pacific community had been undertaken and had resulted in some goals for, or emphases on, Pacific students.

In the school charter, a section outlines how the school will give priority to improving outcomes for Pacific students. Actions include:

  • programme and practices that foster positive cultural recognition and understanding
  • fostering consultation opportunities
  • developing home- school partnerships
  • analysing and reporting Pacific student achievement information to set specific targets.

(Medium decile primary school with 25 percent Pacific students)

All parents were consulted as part of the charter development process and results used to inform charter goals. In 2011 consultation was undertaken specifically with Pacific parents to find out what they thought about a range of school issues and ideas. The results have yet to be fed back to families. However, new goals have been developed to further the Pacific perspective in the school’s curriculum.

(Medium decile primary school with four percent Pacific students)

ERO found that just under half (45 percent) of schools reported on Pacific student achievement to boards of trustees. Most of these only reported on Pacific student achievement at the beginning and the end of the year. Such practice limits trustees’ ability to monitor how well the interventions they resource are accelerating the progress of those learners for whom they were targeted. Only a minority of schools tracked Pacific student achievement through the year, or had set and monitored goals for Pacific student achievement.

ERO found that Pacific students are not a high priority for boards when developing charters and subsequent plans. The low proportion of schools analysing Pacific student achievement and the low number of boards receiving any Pacific achievement information indicates that most boards are not meeting their obligations to respond to the needs of Pacific students.

Schools and Pacific communities

One of the key messages from the School Leadership and Student Outcomes BES [8]foregrounds how effective leadership requires in-depth knowledge of the core business of teaching and learning. The BES explains that leadership requires detailed knowledge of the importance of effective school-home connections and how to foster them when the educational cultures of school and home are different.

As part of this 2012 evaluation ERO asked schools about the initiatives they have developed to engage with Pacific parents and the communities. A majority of schools did not have specific initiatives in place for engaging Pacific communities. Overall, primary schools tended to engage Pacific parents and community members more than secondary schools. This is consistent with other evidence from ERO which has found that there can be a drop in parent engagement as students go through school.[9]

Effective schools built a collaborative culture of understanding between teachers and school leaders and developed positive relationships and partnerships with parents and the wider school community. They aimed to have learners and their families take a proactive approach to knowing about and tracking the learners’ progress.

The initiatives some schools used to engage parents included co-opting Pacific board members and using staff with Pacific community knowledge or language skills to liaise with parents. In one case a school employed a translator so that the senior leadership team could have meaningful conversations about a child’s learning. Some schools also emphasised the need to have a variety of ways to communicate with parents through newsletters, report evenings and informal communication (such as through extra-curricular events).

Other initiatives that helped to engage parents and communities included the connections schools made with community leaders. Church leaders, for example, were a way for a few schools to build connections with parents and involve them in school activities and specific aspects of the learning programme.

School leaders and teachers hold the key to successful focused engagement of students in their learning. The ability to stimulate and challenge students’ thinking to learn lies with the motivational skills teachers bring to the classroom. Teachers need to know their students well and know strategies to help them. When teachers and leaders work in isolation from the learner’s family they are not always able to determine the best actions for the individual student, nor can they help the family support their child to practise the skills or competencies they need to achieve success.