The abovesection includes definitions of literacy and mathematics as they have been applied in this evaluation. These have been sourced from the Ministry of Education, research publications, and ERO’s previous evaluation findings. Also included is information about some of the professional development projects linked to this evaluation.

What is literacy as it applies to adolescent learning?

The International Reading Association position statement defines adolescent literacy in 21st century learning contexts as “the ability to read, write, understand and interpret, and discuss multiple texts across multiple contexts”. As adolescents engage in, and apply literacy learning, they:

read a variety of texts including, but not limited to, traditional print text and digital (multimodal) text, author words and images in fixed domains as well as multimodal settings, talk about a variety of texts with others, including teachers, peers, members of their own communities, and the larger world population, [and] interact with text in discipline-specific ways within and across all subjects inclusive of, but not limited to, electives, career and technical education, and visual and performing arts. [8]

The United States National Council for Teachers of English definition of adolescent literacy captures the reasoning skills that are inherent in literacy learning, and the complex contexts in which literacy develops and is practised:

Adolescent literacy involves social and cognitive processes. [Through literacy, students] discover ideas and make meaning. It enables functions such as analysis, synthesis, organisation and evaluation. It fosters the expression of ideas and opinions, and extends to understanding how texts are created and how meanings are conveyed by various media, brought together in productive ways.

Literacy and language in curriculum learning areas

Adolescent literacy applies in a range of learning areas of the curriculum. As well as generalised or cross-curricular literacy, students need to understand and use effectively the language and the literacy practices required of the various learning areas that make up their secondary courses. In particular, students need to learn, and be able to practise using, subject specific or domain knowledge and language. They need to learn “the different knowledge, ways of knowing, doing, believing, and communicating that are privileged to those areas”. For teachers, this is about paying “careful attention to what it means to learn” in a particular the subject area, [9] and conveying to students when and why certain language or literacy practices are used (p.99).

The New Zealand Curriculum states that for each learning area students need help from their teachers to learn:

  • the specialist vocabulary associated with that area
  • how to read and understand its texts
  • how to communicate knowledge and ideas in appropriate ways
  • how to listen and read critically, assessing the value of what they hear and read.

“In addition to such help, students who are new learners of English or coming into an English-medium environment for the first time need explicit and extensive teaching of English vocabulary, word forms, sentence and text structures, and language uses.[10]

The Literacy Learning Progressions: Meeting the Reading and Writing Demands of the Curriculum [11] state that by the time students enter Year 9, “the reading and writing demands are implicit in much of their everyday curriculum learning,” and “the content [subject matter] that they read and write about becomes more abstract and specialised”. Teachers play an important role in ensuring that students meet the reading, writing and critical thinking/cognitive demands of the curriculum at each year level and increasingly develop the awareness to successfully select from a repertoire of literacy knowledge and skills.

What is being numerate, and mathematical literacy?

In 2001, the Numeracy Development Project Working Group defined what it is to be numerate as “having the ability and inclination to use mathematics effectively in our lives - at home, at work, and in the community".

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines mathematical literacy as “an individual’s capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded judgements and to use and engage in mathematics in ways that meet the needs of the individual’s life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen.” [12] Students need to be able to draw on their “knowledge of mathematical terminology, facts and procedures, as well as skills in performing certain operations and carrying out certain methods.” [13] To be mathematically literate is to have the capacity to make use of mathematical knowledge in a variety of different contexts.

According to The New Zealand Curriculum, through learning about mathematics and statistics students develop “effective means for investigating, interpreting, explaining, and making sense of the [social, cultural, scientific, technological, health, environmental and economic contexts] in which [students] live”. Students “develop the ability to think creatively, critically, strategically, and logically. They learn to structure and to organise, to carry out procedures flexibly and accurately, to process and communicate information, and to enjoy intellectual challenge”. [14]

Numeracy within learning areas

Just as students use their knowledge of literacy and language in other subject areas, they also use mathematics and statistics in a range of learning areas in order to meet the numeracy demands of The New Zealand Curriculum. Through their understanding of mathematics, students can access other areas of the curriculum, for example science and technology. For students to embed and extend their mathematical understanding they need opportunities, in a range of contexts, to recognise, interpret and apply mathematics. [15]

The collection and use of achievement information in secondary schools

ERO’s national evaluation report, The Collection and Use of Assessment Information: Good Practice in Secondary Schools, [16] concluded that good practice across all year levels included:

  • a clear rationale for assessment, the development of school-wide expectations and guidelines about assessment practices, across learning programmes, and the establishment of processes to strengthen consistency and validity in assessment processes
  • the development of school-wide expectations and goals for students based on aggregated and analysed achievement data
  • the use of assessment information to monitor students’ achievement and progress, to identify their learning needs and to plan to address these needs
  • student involvement in their learning including goal setting
  • school-wide collation, analysis and use of assessment information for the purposes of improving future learning/programmes, and to inform policy, planning and resourcing
  • sharing with parents/whānau good quality information about children’s progress and inviting their involvement in formulating next learning steps
  • purposeful and meaningful consultation with parents, including Māori communities and whānau, about assessment processes and priorities.

Refer to Appendix Three for specific information about how The New Zealand Curriculum[17] describes good practice in terms of the three key aspects of this evaluation – transitions, knowing about achievement and progress, and planning 

The Secondary Literacy Project (SLP) and the Secondary Numeracy Project (SNP)

The Secondary Literacy Project (SLP), and the Secondary Numeracy Project (SNP) aim to raise student achievement in Years 9 and 10, particularly focusing on underachieving Māori and Pacific students. These projects were introduced in 2003 and 2005 respectively. In the case of the SLP, there have been several iterations of the professional development model. The current one, which began in 2009, has an inquiry and professional knowledge-building focus.

The projects’ objectives are to increase leaders’ and teachers’ knowledge of effective practices, and develop effective professional learning communities that promote inquiry into the effectiveness of numeracy and literacy teaching and learning, professional learning, inclusive school cultures, collaborative problem solving, and reflective practice.

Some of the schools involved in this evaluation were involved, or had a past involvement in SLP and SNP. ERO did not undertake any specific analysis of these schools beyond noting that, of the 68 schools involved in this evaluation, 10 schools have been involved in SLP and 24 schools have been involved in SNP at some point since these projects began.