Years 9 and 10 are vital years in students’ schooling. It is in these years that students build on and consolidate their learning from the primary school years, and lay the foundation for their future success in the senior secondary school, and their post-secondary lives. In this report ERO evaluates how effectively schools use literacy and mathematics achievement information to improve learning for Years 9 and 10 students. Data was collected in 68 secondary schools throughout New Zealand in 2011 as part of the regular ERO reviews of these schools. Underpinning the project was ERO’s interest in how assessment information for students in Years 9 and 10 was used to plan, implement and review the curriculum at key transition points, and throughout the year.

In an earlier report, ERO noted[1] that “unless teachers are knowledgeable about their students’ achievements and interests, they cannot be confident their teaching is supporting students to achieve their potential”. Gathering, analysing, interpreting and using assessment information to respond to students’ identified next learning steps is the foundation of effective teaching. Without doing all of these things, teachers are not likely to provide programmes that meet students’ needs, strengths and interests. They will not lift the achievement of all students, or accelerate the progress of students who are not doing well in school. Poorly designed programmes can have a serious impact on the engagement of students, and this in turn impacts on students’ achievement and progress.

The overall findings indicate that the situation for Years 9 and 10 students is somewhat bleak. Many schools did not have well-established processes for using assessment information to help students learn. Generally, information gathered at transition points was not used well by teachers to identify what students already knew, and what teachers and students needed to work on next. Limited information was gathered throughout the year that told teachers how well students were achieving and progressing, or how effectively classroom programmes were improving students’ learning. Some of our most vulnerable students – Māori and Pacific students, those from low socio-economic backgrounds, and students with special education needs - are not getting the responsive and focused education they need to be successful at school and in their later life. These are our priority learners.

Boards of trustees typically knew little about the achievement of students in Years 9 and 10, and were seldom involved in making decisions about resourcing for improving students’ learning. Very few schools set improvement targets for Years 9 and 10 students. Hampering trustees’ involvement was a lack of timely and useful information from school leaders. Knowing about, and planning to raise the achievement of priority learners, is critically important if these students’ progress is to be accelerated.

ERO found that only a small number of Years 9 and 10 students experienced the opportunity to set goals, assess their own performance, and receive feedback about their progress. Given that there is substantial evidence indicating how effective these processes are in building students’ engagement and understanding of their learning, it is of concern that teachers do not more readily integrate these practices into their programmes.

If New Zealand is to achieve the Government’s goal of 85 percent of students leaving school with at least National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Level Two or equivalent qualifications, then we must think more deliberately about the education these students receive. Leaders and teachers must give greater priority to creating classroom environments in which achievement and progress is recognised and responded to so that students can achieve relevant qualifications and enjoy successful lives as literacy and mathematically competent citizens.

Collating and analysing students’ achievement information, reporting relevant findings to the board of trustees, and supporting teachers to plan effectively, were aspects of school leadership practice that were typically not strong in this evaluation. As a result, in many secondary schools, Years 9 and 10 students are provided with a predetermined curriculum in literacy and mathematics that does not take account of their particular strengths and needs.

Integrated into the findings of this report are aspects of good practice. These have been included to guide schools for improving their practice.