Findings

Seeking and using achievement information at key transition points in Years 9 and 10

Research indicates that for the majority of students at Year 9, the transition process is a gradual adjustment to a completely different environment from their previous schooling. [18] Their transition into Year 9 generally includes having multiple teachers instead of one classroom teacher, learning new subjects, more prescribed timetables, needing to shift around the school for their classes, increased homework, and developing new relationships with friends and teachers.

The same research found that the transition from Years 9 to Year 10 was less disruptive. Year 10 students were less anxious than they were at Year 9 as a result of knowing how things happened at the school. However, they were also aware that the NCEA or other New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) qualifications were looming and that teachers expected more from them in terms of their academic work.[19] At the Years 10 to11 transition, the focus on NZQA became more intense and more was expected of students in terms of self‑management as they moved into the senior school.

All of these circumstances have the potential to impact on students’ learning and success at school. It is important that leaders and teachers ensure that the curriculum which students encounter in these important years facilitates their successful and streamlined transition into, and through the secondary system.

When evaluating how effectively schools sought and used achievement information at key transition points, ERO considered whether schools’ practices:

  • were well understood and applied by the teachers within and beyond the school
  • led to the exchange of useful information between teachers, school leaders and other relevant parties about the learning needs and strengths of all students [20]
  • resulted in the identification of learners who required additional help in order to progress to their full potential, and the subsequent development of appropriate programmes to meet their learning needs
  • included occasions for students and their families to discuss and plan learning pathways through the school, and career possibilities beyond the school
  • focused on all student groups (ethnic, gender, students with learning needs, students with disabilities and students who are gifted and talented)
  • were reviewed to improve future transition approaches.

Only nine percent of schools were judged as having highly effectively processes in terms of gathering and using information at key transitions. In these schools the criteria described above were present. Fifty-seven percent of schools were partially effective. While there were pockets of good practice in relation to the criteria described above, missing from their practices, in particular, were opportunities for Year 9 students to discuss and plan learning pathways. There was also a lack of attention to providing Years 9 and 10 students with programmes that aligned to the assessment information gathered.

Just over one-third of schools were either minimally or not effective at using achievement information to design responsive programmes when students started secondary school. In these schools, information from contributing schools was not available to teachers, was not deemed to be trustworthy, or arrived too late for schools to make use of it. The implications of this were that secondary schools knew little about the students as they set foot in the door, and they could not prepare for them in a timely manner. Figure 1 illustrates the overall findings in relation to the effectiveness of secondary schools in seeking and using information about students at transition points.

Figure 1: The effectiveness of secondary schools in seeking and using information at transition points (Years 8-9, Years 9-10, and Years 10-11)

figure 1 is a bar graph called The effectiveness of secondary schools in seeking and using information at transition points (Years 8-9, Years 9-10, and Years 10-11). The y-axis is called percentage of schools and is ranged 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x-axis has four labels they are Highly effective 9%, Partially effective 57%, Minimally effective 31% and Not effective 3%.

Gathering information about Years 9 and 10 students

ERO found that most secondary schools sought information from contributing schools as part of their process of transitioning Year 8 students into the school. A considerable amount of the information gathered from contributing schools related to students’ academic achievement, although information about students’ social development was also sought.

Results from standardised and norm-referenced assessment tools were favoured by both primary and secondary schools. The tools most commonly used were asTTle,[21] STAR, [22] PAT, [23] and NumPA. [24] At both year levels, teachers gathered more information about literacy than they did about mathematics, however this is likely to be a reflection of the availability of more reading and writing assessment tools, compared to mathematics assessment tools.

In all but one school, teachers gathered additional information as students entered in Year 9, or in the latter part of Year 8. In some cases, retesting happened because secondary school leaders felt that the data provided for them by contributing schools was not reliable, current, or did not cover the domains that they wished to know about. Retesting sometimes meant that several weeks passed before teachers and leaders had the information they needed. Assessments were used to confirm class placing rather than as a source of information for the teaching and learning programme. When assessment information became available, some students were reallocated to different classes. This practice is highly likely to cause disruption to students’ education and relationships with their teachers and peers, and to impact negatively on students’ sense of self efficacy and confidence.

Using information about Years 9 and 10 students

ERO found that students’ assessment data was used for three main purposes – class placement; identifying students with additional learning needs; and planning for students’ learning.

Class placement

The most frequent use of literacy and mathematics achievement information at Year 9 was to decide on class placements. In most schools information was used to allocate students to streamed or banded classes. [25] Streaming occurred on the basis of mathematics achievement, literacy achievement and, in some cases, a combination of both. In some schools the approach was to stream the top and bottom classes and create mixed ability classes for the remainder of the students. A few schools established mixed ability classes only.

The situation for Year 10 students was similar to Year 9. In a small number of schools, literacy and mathematics information gathered in Year 10 was used to place students in Year 11 courses that matched their strengths and examination results. This included identifying students who required additional support in mathematics or literacy, and assisting students to choose subjects or courses that matched their abilities and interests. Decisions about placement of students in Year 11 were generally made on the basis of students’ engagement, attendance, and marks or grades in internal examinations in Year 10.

Identifying students with additional learning needs

The second most frequent use of transition information was to identify students with additional learning needs who might benefit from additional learning support. Typically this support took the form of supplementary instruction in literacy and/or mathematics through withdrawal programmes provided by learning support teachers. In a few instances students received help from teacher aides in their regular classes. Good quality information sharing between learning support teachers and classroom teachers was evident in only a few schools.

Good practice in one school saw an intervention programme developed that made use of the information the school had collected from the contributing school and their own diagnostic testing. In another school there was a very useful process for documenting each student’s progress and the support that he/she had received. This included records of students’ test results, observations of individual students working in class, information about the work teacher aides had been doing with these students, and records of liaison with classroom teachers.

In one school, innovative practice supported students’ literacy and mathematics learning.

During the week parent volunteers worked one-on-one with approximately 100 Year 9 students in literacy and mathematics. The goal was to improve their achievement levels. In addition, several informal student groups got together; some at peer age level, others where older students supported younger students in their learning. This was most evident in the library at lunchtimes, and before and after school. The Maths Buddy Programme included sending weekly email progress reports to parents. Formal tutorials for students were scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday mornings. (Years 9-15 Secondary school)

In another school an Individual Education Plan (IEP) [26] was developed in collaboration with parents and teachers prior to students’ entry to secondary school. An IEP established in this way meant that the transition to secondary education occurred in a more coherent manner and that the appropriate resources and educational provision were put in place before students arrived at the school.

In the most effective composite and small secondary schools a range of processes were in place for sharing information about students as they transitioned within the school. Information flowed through informal discussions about individual students, and through the more formal processes of talking about achievement information and individual students’ portfolios. The small size of the school meant that teachers often taught the same students for several years and therefore knew about their particular strengths and needs.

Planning for students’ learning

Programmes that build on what students already know help teachers to address underachievement and to accelerate the learning of all students. Where programmes are pitched at a level that promotes students’ success, there are likely to be significantly fewer issues with poor engagement.

ERO found that in most secondary schools, teachers had access to student achievement information stored in the school’s centralised Student Management System (SMS), but they were not using it. Some leaders expected English and mathematics teachers to use these data to plan programmes for students. However, these teachers were typically not doing this, or not doing this regularly. There was evidence that teachers working in curriculum areas other than English and mathematics were using this information even less. Instead, teachers typically implemented a pre-planned departmental curriculum that did not take account of information about what students already knew, or any learning gaps they might have.

Similarly, there was limited evidence to suggest that information gathered during the course of the year was used to adjust the programme to meet students’ strengths and interests and to plan for their future learning. Only a few schools demonstrated that they used information to cater for students who were gifted and talented beyond the streaming or banding provision. It is important that all students’ needs and strengths are identified early and programmes are adjusted to cater for them.

How the board of trustees used transition information

Generally boards of trustees were not involved in making decisions about resources needed for incoming Year 9 students. They did not receive material in a timely manner to allow them to do so. Typically trustees learned about the achievement and progress of Years 9 and 10 students at the end of the year when it was too late to specifically target or focus on learners that were not succeeding or were likely to leave school before gaining necessary qualifications in the future. Furthermore, the absence of information at the beginning of the year meant that trustees frequently had no reference point against which they could measure the progress these students had made during the year. It is critical that school leaders address these issues so the boards can respond promptly and appropriately to the identified needs of all students, but particularly to priority learners.

The following are examples of schools with good practice for gathering and using assessment information at transition points.

School One: Good practice in using assessment information at transition points to meet students’ needs

Context: A large high decile secondary school (Years 9 to15) in a main urban area. This school had not been involved in any specific literacy or mathematics professional learning and development (PLD), but has focused over the last three years on building teachers’ understanding of teaching as inquiry. [27] PLD in the mathematics department had assisted teachers to make use of asTTle information in their classroom programmes. Teachers use data to set specific goals and targets for the students whose progress needs to be accelerated.

The early collection and analysis of students’ information at transition into the school means teachers can give immediate support to those not achieving at National Standards in literacy and mathematics. These learners have extra English and mathematics programmes for a maximum of two terms, after which the student’s progress is reviewed. Other provision comes through English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programmes and in-class help from teacher aides. There is support and guidance for teachers from the Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour (RT:LB), deans and the director of teaching and learning. IEP are developed collaboratively with teachers and parents for those students who have needs that cannot be adequately met through other school interventions or programmes. These IEP are regularly reviewed so that the support given is responsive to the emerging learning needs of these students. In some cases this review happens weekly.

School Two: Good practice through developing shared understanding about assessment practice

Context: A small, low decile composite school (Years 1-15) in a minor urban area.

This school was involved in a major PLD programme in literacy and a considerable amount of internal PLD to work with the National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics. Most of the professional development in mathematics was internal and involved staff across all levels of the school. Teachers report that through this PLD they have developed a shared understanding about effective approaches to teaching mathematics and the achievement progression and expectations of achievement at particular year levels.

Many students in the secondary school are taught by the same specialist teacher for English and mathematics which means that teachers know students well as individuals and as learners.

Teachers have good quality information in literacy and mathematics as students transition from Years 8 to 9. This comprises information about students’ achievement in relation to reading, writing and mathematics National Standards, together with teachers’ observations and comprehensive student profiles. Good quality information about Numeracy stages and NumPA means teachers know how well students are achieving. Mathematics information is used particularly well in the classroom to differentiate the programme for students in Years 9 and 10.

As a result of the shared and ongoing learning teachers have made about assessment, they trust the data they receive from their colleagues. This means less retesting and faster, smoother transitions for students. Planning for individuals, small groups and whole classes is based on the effective use of assessment data. Teachers are becoming skilled at tailoring their programmes for the learning needs of individual students.

These schools have promoted seamless education for students through well-planned transition programmes. The examples also highlight the value of early access to high quality and trustworthy assessment data, and thoughtful use of information to make provision for students, especially those who need to make the most progress now, and with their future qualifications.

Knowing about students’ achievement and progress in literacy and mathematics at Years 9 and 10

ERO found that seven percent of schools had highly effective processes for knowing about students’ achievement and progress. In these schools the following criteria were present:

  • the tools teachers used to measure achievement and progress were appropriate for the task
  • multiple sources of data were collected and analysed to arrive at valid judgments about each student’s achievement and progress in literacy and mathematics
  • data was collected at many points in time so that there was longitudinal evidence of student achievement and progress
  • data was collected for all groups of students (ethnic, gender, students with special education needs and students with special abilities) in literacy and mathematics
  • data was disaggregated for each student group (ethnicity, gender, students with special education needs and students with special abilities) in literacy and mathematics
  • data was analysed for trends in the performance of groups of students in literacy and mathematics
  • external standards and/or criteria were used as tools to aid in the interpretation of mathematics and literacy data
  • comparisons were made to expected learning standards throughout the year
  • comparisons were made to expected learning standards over successive years
  • key people knew about the findings of analysed data, and there were effective processes used to discuss these findings and plan for students’ future learning.

The majority of schools (57 percent) were partially effective. In these schools there were differences in how student achievement and progress was monitored in literacy or mathematics. Some gaps were evident in the information held by schools, in particular these schools did not have information about all of the learning areas/subject areas. For example, there may not have been data available for writing.

Most schools implemented a programme of testing students at the beginning of the year, and retesting them at the end of the year. The substantial gap between when data was collected meant that leaders did not know how effectively students were progressing throughout the year, and teachers did not have current and ongoing information on which to base their teaching decisions.

Thirty-six percent of schools had minimally effective or not effective processes for determining the achievement and progress Years 9 and 10 students were making in literacy and mathematics. In these schools there were no established systems for monitoring the progress and achievement of students. Information was collected for only some students, such as priority learners, but not for all students. Leaders in these schools were less likely to know how to analyse and interpret student achievement information so that it could be used by teachers and the board of trustees.

Seven schools used the Middle Years Information System (MidYIS). [28] Tests were administered at the beginning of Year 9 and again in Year 10 to measure the value that schools had added to students’ learning. There was no evidence that results at Year 9 or Year 10 were used other than to arrive at a summative assessment of the progress students had made.

Where assessment information, such as subject-based tests and examinations, was gathered during the year, teachers made limited use of it to identify gaps in students’ learning and to adjust the programme accordingly. [29] Given the importance of knowing whether literacy and mathematics programmes are appropriately addressing students’ needs, it is imperative that schools improve their practice for monitoring the achievement and progress of students.

Figure 2 presents the findings for how well schools were implementing processes to determine the achievement and progress of students.

Figure 2: Processes to determine the achievement and progress of students in literacy and mathematics

figure 2 is a bar graph called Knowing about students’ achievement and progress in literacy and mathematics at Years 9 and 10. The y-axis is called percentage of schools and is ranged 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x-axis has four labels they are Highly effective 7%, Partially effective 57%, Minimally effective 31% and Not effective 5%.

Teachers’ gave little attention to monitoring what was happening for students who required additional support to achieve or progress. Typically this task was undertaken by learning support teachers rather than students’ subject teachers. ERO found limited evidence that information flowed between learning support teachers and classroom teachers. Information about students’ progress and achievement, and teaching approaches that helped students make the most progress, should be known by all of the teachers who have responsibility for these students, not just the learning support teachers. Such sharing assists in developing a curriculum for students that builds on their known strengths and addresses their gaps in learning. Most importantly, through sharing information and developing a coordinated programme, students’ learning can be accelerated in all of their classes. In this evaluation, there was limited evidence that this was the case.

Students who are underachieving are placed in further jeopardy when achievement information is not available, or not used to plan programmes and monitor progress. The risks are that they fail to make the progress necessary to achieve in school and do not gain the qualifications to successfully participate fully in society. Importantly, they can develop an enduring sense of inadequacy and disengagement with learning.

Setting improvement goals and targets for Years 9 and 10 students in literacy and mathematics

Setting targets to raise achievement is a key lever for bringing about better outcomes for students. Target setting is critically important in addressing the underachievement of priority learners, particularly Māori and Pacific students, those from low socio-economic backgrounds, and students with special education needs. School charter targets should specify the improvement shifts which schools wish to make in the achievement of identified students. [30] The charter should also identify the support required to make these shifts happen, including the financial resources, PLD and other teaching, learning and community-based programmes the school might put in place.

Goal setting generally takes place in the classroom, and ideally applies to all students. Teachers and students use achievement information to set stretching but achievable goals related to students’ individual learning needs and next steps. When students know about their progress and achievement, and are supported to identify relevant next learning steps, there are likely to be positive outcomes for their learning and engagement. [31]

ERO used the following criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of the processes schools used in setting goals and targets:

  • goals and targets for groups of students align appropriately with the findings about their achievement and progress
  • goals and targets appropriately address all identified student groups (ethnic, gender, students with educational learning needs, students with special abilities)
  • multiple parties know about, and are involved in fostering the attainment of the goals and targets that are set for students in literacy and mathematics
  • teachers have a clear understanding of the implications of the goals and targets for programme planning and implementation
  • the goals and targets are in evidence in their programmes across the curriculum
  • leaders have a clear understanding of the implications of the goals and targets for curriculum management (planning, resourcing and policy development) in literacy and mathematics.

ERO found very few instances where these processes were happening. Fewer than 10 percent of schools were setting targets for raising the achievement of priority students in Years 9 and 10. Of these schools most were not doing this well. Targets were either too broad to be measured, not sufficiently founded on student achievement information, or, not concentrated on the groups of students who were most in need of focused attention.

Student goal setting was undertaken more effectively than target setting, although aspects could be improved. For example, test information was sometimes shared with students who had very few opportunities to set and self monitor their progress relative to individualised goals in literacy and mathematics. The exception was one school in which students used their portfolios to document reading and writing goals, and to reflect on their progress towards meeting these.

Only four percent of schools had highly effective processes for setting improvement targets for students, and in setting literacy and mathematics goals with students in Years 9 and 10. Thirty-seven percent were partially effective in doing so. In these schools goals were set with students but these were either too broad or were not monitored by either teachers or students. The very limited target setting that was happening was not in all year levels or did not involve all the teachers who taught Years 9 and 10. A further 38 percent were minimally effective in these respects. In 21 percent of schools, processes were not effective. In these schools, no target setting occurred for Years 9 and 10 students, and there were no opportunities for students to set and review their individualised goals.

Teachers and leaders would benefit from a better understanding of the current best practice research literature about how to include students in their learning. [32] When students understand what they need to focus on, they have greater insight about themselves as learners, and develop enhanced skills in managing their own learning. This aligns closely to the overall vision for New Zealand young people: that they develop as confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners.

Figure 3 illustrates how effectively schools were setting improvement goals and targets.

Figure 3: The processes used in setting improvement goals and targets

figure 3 is a bar graph called The processes used in setting improvement goals and targets. The y-axis is called percentage of schools and is ranged 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x-axis has four labels they are Highly effective 4%, Partially effective 37%, Minimally effective 38% and Not effective 21%.

It is critical that school leaders, together with boards of trustees, consider targets for students in Years 9 and 10 so that their achievement is lifted and their progress is accelerated. For many schools the issue is how to set and review targets that will really make a difference for Years 9 and 10 students.

Below is an example of a school with highly effective processes for knowing about students’ achievement and progress.

School Three: Good practice in building teachers’ capacities to respond to learners

Context: A very large, medium decile secondary school (Years 9-15) in a main urban area. Teachers from across all school subject areas/faculties were involved in a two-year Secondary Literacy Project (SLP). After the school’s involvement in SLP, the focus on literacy was kept alive with ongoing support from an external advisor. Considerable attention was paid to developing whole school approaches to literacy teaching. This led to a cohesive curriculum and promoted consistent teaching practice. Literacy leaders are part of a wider educational literacy community that meet regularly to share practice. Information from these meetings is shared later through staff and faculty meetings.

Two years ago the school participated in the Secondary Numeracy Project that resulted in considerable improvements in teaching and assessment practices. Best practice is now embedded in mathematics teachers’ practices. Teachers are well supported by school leaders who continue to build their knowledge through local and national PLD programmes.

Leaders established a process whereby teachers buddy each other to build their professional knowledge. Induction processes help new staff to implement the mathematics programme well. The mathematics faculty designed an assessment approach that supports teachers to make use of assessment information in their planning. Teachers have been helped to understand how mathematics learning can be incorporated into subject areas other than mathematics.

Practice: The school has high expectations for student achievement and progress. Teachers focus on preparing students to be successful in their Year 11 achievement requirements. Subject-based goals are developed for each student in every year group. They are recorded in individual student profile books that document the progress and achievement students have made in pre and post tests.

Regular faculty discussions occur about the achievement and progress of groups and individual students. Student achievement data is analysed to determine trends and patterns within the year. This information is provided to the board of trustees who uses it to review the effectiveness of initiatives they are funding.

Assessment, teaching and learning processes in School Three contribute well to students’ learning. Through monitoring and documenting students’ progress and achievement, teachers are well placed to respond in a timely manner to learning needs as they arise. Involving students in the process of evaluating their own achievement and progress contributes to their sense of connectedness to their learning.

Planning, implementing and reviewing the curriculum for students in Years 9 and 10

Planning, implementing and reviewing the literacy and mathematics curriculum involves teachers and leaders in the practice of teaching as inquiry. [33] Where inquiry is practised well there is a clear process by which teachers gather assessment information, make decisions about how to meet the needs of students (It is a including priority learners), implement programmes or initiatives to address their needs, and review the impact of these programmes or initiatives on outcomes for them. The process is about being responsive to what information tells teachers about their students.

The information from school curriculum review and classroom evaluation helps to feed into future teaching and learning. In curriculum review, school leaders gather information about students’ achievement, and use this to plan interventions that meet the needs of priority learners, for example, to set targets for these students, and to change the emphases of the curriculum so it links to students’ interests and prior learning. Figure 4 illustrates the process.

figure 4 is a flow chart called the teaching lerning relationship. The boxes are from top right Teaching and Learning, Learning inquiry what happened as a result of the teaching and what are the implications for future teaching?, Focusing Inquiry what is important and therefore worth spending our time on given where my students are at? and the last box is Teaching Inquiry What strategies evidence based are most likely to help my students learn this. These boxes are linked by continuous arrows the line that links teaching inquiry and learning inquiry is labelled Is there something I need to change? The line that connects learning inquiry to focuing inquiry is labelled what are the next steps for teaching.

Source: Ministry of Education, (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium teaching and learning in years 1-13. Wellington: Learning Media Limited

Most schools were noticeably better at focusing inquiry (identifying which students need help) and teaching inquiry (what strategies would be used with these students), than they were at learning inquiry (evaluating what happened in terms of outcomes for the target students).

Overall, most schools did not engage in an effective inquiry into teaching approach. Where it was happening it was most evident as curriculum review carried out by school leaders, rather than practised by individual teachers in classrooms as they looked into their practice.

Only three percent of schools were highly effective at planning, implementing and reviewing the curriculum for students in Years 9 and 10. Thirty-seven percent of schools were partially effective in this respect. Some teachers were planning for individuals and groups of students. However, there was limited evidence that teachers were evaluating how well programmes were meeting students’ learning needs or strengths. Some heads of departments were monitoring the progress of students in Years 9 and 10, although they were not always carrying out robust analysis of the student information collected.

A concerning 60 percent of schools were minimally effective or not effective at using assessment information to plan, implement and review the curriculum to improve students’ learning in Years 9 and 10 students. Issues identified included ineffective processes for using data to plan programmes in the classroom or to plan school initiatives for target students; and school review that was not based on the use of good quality evidence. Figure 5 shows the findings.

Figure 5: Schools’ effectiveness in planning, implementing and reviewing the curriculum

figure 5 is a bar graph called Schools’ effectiveness in planning, implementing and reviewing the curriculum. The y-axis is called percentage of schools and is ranged 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x-axis has four labels they are Highly effective 3%, Partially effective 37%, Minimally effective 47% and Not effective 13%.

Schools must improve their practice in relation to planning, implementing and reviewing the curriculum for Years 9 and 10. Together, these three activities represent important stages in a responsive and interconnected process by which teachers deliberately plan to improve students’ learning. Carried out as discrete activities they cannot yield the rich and relevant learning students need.

Leaders’ involvement in planning, implementation and review of literacy and mathematics programmes

In a small number of schools leadership practices supported the teaching of literacy and mathematics. These practices included:

  • organising and/or facilitating PLD that had a major focus on students’ learning in mathematics and literacy
  • ensuring that the knowledge gained through PLD was sustained through opportunities for ongoing discussion and up-skilling new staff
  • conveying to teachers the importance of having high teaching and learning expectations
  • making available resources that could be used to promote literacy and mathematics
  • managing school organisation well so that learning could happen (such as establishing effective timetables and planning strategically how to use staffing).[34]

Four leadership roles were not carried out well in some secondary schools:

  • the collation and analysis of students’ achievement information at Years 9 and 10
  • setting improvement targets for Years 9 and 10 students
  • reporting information to the board of trustees
  • supporting teachers to plan effectively, and monitoring that this was happening.

Some leaders were not collating and analysing student achievement information, or were not doing this well. They were also not strategically addressing the issue of raising student achievement in Years 9 and 10 by establishing targets for these students based on analysed data.

Some leaders were also not reporting information about student achievement to the board of trustees. The board needs the information to make decisions about how to support initiatives to help raise students’ achievement. They also need it to monitor the effectiveness of teaching and learning for this group. It is important that Years 9 and 10 students’ achievement features regularly on the board’s agenda as one of the steps towards strategically addressing the needs of these students.

There was also the sense that some leaders were providing little ongoing support and encouragement for effective classroom planning for students’ learning, or monitoring of whether teachers were making use of student achievement information as the basis of the planning, implementation and review. This hands-off approach does not convey to teachers the importance of deliberate and responsive teaching for students in these very important years of schooling.

Teachers’ involvement in planning, implementation and review of literacy and mathematics programmes

ERO found that in the small number of schools where planning, implementation and review practice was well developed, teachers were drawing on some of the following processes and practices. They were:

  • using assessment information well to plan programmes that were pitched at the students’ learning levels (in class and through extension and remedial programmes)
  • making use of interesting and relevant content and activities to engage students in their learning
  • linking new knowledge to students’ prior learning
  • providing opportunities for students to undertake activities individually and in groups, and to offer, and receive, peer support
  • extending students’ thinking through challenging curriculum tasks
  • providing students with feedback about their performance, and including them in setting relevant learning goals
  • assisting students to self assess by providing them with rubrics and success criteria
  • including them in the reporting process through parent, student and teacher conferencing.

Illustrative of some of these points was the work being done at one school to engage Māori students in literacy learning.

The English department runs a voluntary Māori literacy class after school one day a week. This is the initiative of a teacher who is passionate about improving Māori achievement. The rationale is to heighten students’ awareness of, and interest in, language and literature. The texts used have Māori themes, or are written by Māori authors, poets or dramatists. Although the numbers attending are not large at this stage, students who attend find it very helpful in building their confidence and their ability to gain the required literacy credits in Year 11.

Overall though, ERO found that the process of planning, implementing and reviewing programmes, in relation to Years 9 and 10 students, was not happening well in secondary schools, particularly at the classroom level. [35]

ERO found there were greater opportunities to plan and implement individualised literacy and mathematics learning programmes in smaller schools where teachers knew students well and had contact with them each day. Literacy and mathematics learning was more likely to be integrated into other learning areas such as science and social sciences because teachers had more frequent opportunities to work together. Students had opportunities to use their literacy and mathematics skills and knowledge in other contexts and to access the whole curriculum using their literacy and mathematical knowledge and skills. Overall, mathematics learning was not integrated as well across the curriculum as literacy.

Parents’ involvement in their children’s literacy and mathematics learning

In about half of the schools, parents had useful opportunities to learn about their children’s achievement and progress. Good practice in relation to parents’ involvement was seen where schools:

  • provided many opportunities for parents to know about their child’s achievement and progress (for example through several reporting “events” in a year)
  • included in reporting processes information about students’ achievement, progress and next learning steps
  • encouraged parents to contribute to the school’s curriculum, and to support the school’s values and mission
  • discussed with respective communities the achievement of Māori and Pacific students, and gathered community members’ feedback about the steps that could be taken to improve learning for these students
  • included parents in helping to eliminate barriers to students’ learning (such as enlisting their support for better school attendance)
  • kept parents informed about the progress of their children with special learning needs
  • invited the contribution of parents to the development of programmes for students with learning needs.

Disappointingly, parents at approximately one-third of schools did not receive reports that acknowledged their children’s strengths, and/or did not indicate how they could help their children at home with their learning.

Boards of trustees involvement in literacy and mathematics curriculum review

In about one-third of schools, boards of trustees played a role in promoting literacy and mathematics teaching and learning for Years 9 and 10 students. Their activities included allocating resources such as employing specialist teachers and teacher aides to work in the area of literacy and mathematics, and funding for PLD for teachers.

Some of these boards, in consultation with senior staff members, had used achievement information for strategic planning, including setting and reviewing targets for students and identifying appropriate PLD opportunities. In a very small number of schools, trustees further interrogated the information provided to them so that they could more effectively identify where resources needed to be allocated.

For about two-thirds of boards, there was not a particularly sharp focus on improving the achievement of Years 9 and 10 students. In most cases they were hampered by insufficient and/or irregular information about students’ achievement and progress in Years 9 and 10. Overall, school leaders did not provide trustees with useful student achievement information to undertake their important governance role. Useful and timely information is necessary so that trustees can make appropriate decisions about support for priority students.

The following are examples of schools in which literacy and mathematics programmes for Years 9 and 10 students were planned, implemented and reviewed well.

School Four: Good practice in planning at all levels for improved outcomes for students

Context: A small, high decile secondary school (Years 7-15) in a main urban area. The English department and the two intermediate (Years 7 and 8) department teachers were involved in ongoing literacy PLD. A literacy leader was appointed to improve the practice of integrating literacy in every learning area in The New Zealand Curriculum. Teachers are in the early stages of sharing with each other useful literacy teaching strategies. As a result, some Years 9 and 10 teachers in subject areas other than English are successfully integrating literacy into their teaching. The high levels of literacy achievement in NCEA indicate that the teaching and learning strategies teachers are using across all levels of the school are effective. PLD in mathematics has been undertaken by the mathematics department and the intermediate department teachers.

Practice: Teachers use their very good knowledge of each student and information about students’ achievement and interests to decide on teaching content. Learning activities are relevant, authentic and interesting. Teachers also use this information to decide on approaches to teaching that will motivate and challenge students in literacy and mathematics. Teachers link new knowledge with students’ prior learning.

Students’ achievement and progress in literacy and mathematics is closely monitored. Appropriate support is provided for students who are not achieving well, or for those who need extension. Teachers collaboratively discuss students’ progress and assessments regularly and reflect on and share practices that are likely to provide the best possible outcomes for students. Students who have entered the school ‘at risk’ with their learning, go on to achieve very good outcomes in NCEA.

Leaders have high expectations for learning and achievement that are regularly shared with students, teachers and parents. Teachers have high expectations of students as learners and achievers. Regular discussions with students about their work and collaborative development of their next learning steps are an ongoing part of teacher practice. Students are active and keen participants in their learning. They feel confident to respectfully and keenly question their teachers to ensure they understand what they are learning.

Parents and whānau receive clear, detailed and timely reports of their child’s progress and achievement in literacy and mathematics. These are based on national curriculum levels. Parents have formal and informal opportunities to regularly discuss with teachers and senior leaders the engagement, learning, progress and achievement of their children. Senior leaders and teachers are very responsive to parent and whānau feedback.

Strategic planning and self review is based on well presented and carefully considered student data and other information. Trustees are highly interested in student achievement. The information they receive about Years 9 and 10 students’ progress and achievement in literacy and mathematics helps them to identify students’ needs, and to compare progress over time that focuses their decisions about planning and resourcing.

The annual plan has actions related to literacy and mathematics priorities. It includes strategies for leaders and teachers, and describes who is responsible for achieving the goals and the timeframes in which these should be met. The strategic plan, the annual plan, and programme implementation are strongly aligned. Recent curriculum review has enabled leaders to reflect on how they can sustain and continue to improve high student achievement in literacy and mathematics.

School Five: Good practice using achievement information to engage students in learning

Context: A medium size, low decile, urban school. The head of the English department is the co-coordinator of literacy learning. Whole school literacy professional development was undertaken as part of a schooling improvement initiative.

Leaders have focused on building teachers’ capacities to talk about students’ learning and their own teaching. At the beginning of 2011 the literacy coordinator presented to the whole staff a report on the analysed asTTle writing data. He explained the meaning of the assessment data for teachers’ practice. Attendance at a course on effective reading strategies benefitted teachers at the school.

Practice: Student achievement data is used to plan teaching topics in mathematics and English. Planning and evaluation templates, that were trialled and modified before being introduced, are now widely used by teachers as tools for teaching and learning. They are still in the early stages of implementation, and leaders are keen to know how useful these templates are in supporting rigorous planning and evaluation process. Leaders want the information which teachers collect through evaluation to be well used in school self-review processes, as well as in adapting classroom programmes.

Students are encouraged to be involved in planning for their learning. They identify their own strengths and weaknesses, set goals for improvement and discuss their next steps with teachers.

Good work has been achieved in including parents in a learning-focused partnership. Māori, Samoan, Cook Island and Tokelauan parent groups meet to discuss students’ learning. The school runs information evenings for each group, and also has awards evenings to celebrate students’ successes and achievements. Written information relating to school events and initiatives is translated into relevant languages.

The examples above describe how teachers and leaders have paid close attention to providing students with a curriculum that meets their needs and engages them as competent learners. Innovation amongst the staff, and a focus on planning strategically, is aimed at improving outcomes for students. Such practices are likely to yield positive outcomes for students.