This national evaluation report focuses on the important connections between:

  • the design and review of each school’s mathematics curriculum
  • the use of achievement information by trustees, leaders, teachers and students
  • the acceleration of progress of priority learners.

The context is the learning area of mathematics and what is happening for students in Years 4 to 8.

The report is one of a series of evaluations the Education Review Office (ERO) has undertaken on how schools are working with the National Standards within The New Zealand Curriculum. In this evaluation, ERO used the mathematics learning area and associated standards to look at what schools were doing to raise the achievement of students in Years 4 to 8.

ERO gathered data for this evaluation in Term 4, 2011 and Term 1, 2012. Information was gathered during the scheduled education reviews of 240 schools catering for students in Years 4 to 8.

Reviewing the mathematics curriculum

A feature of The New Zealand Curriculum is the expectation that schools will review and design their own school curriculum in light of what they know about their learners. The notion of a curriculum that responds to all learners is one that schools were expected to embrace as they worked to implement the revised curriculum from 2010 onwards.

This evaluation shows that in many schools the leaders and teachers are involved in regular review of their mathematics programmes as part of their wider school curriculum. Teachers are assessing students’ progress and achievement and are able to identify learners needing additional support or extension. This approach works for many, but not all of our priority learners.

Schools with highly effective processes for reviewing and adapting their mathematics curriculum used an integrated approach to using assessment to inform curriculum review and design. They used their information to decide which strands or concepts they should spend more time teaching, and to determine the most effective teaching practices for their learners. A culture of reflection and inquiry at board, leader and teacher level supported ongoing review of schools’ mathematics programmes.

Many schools were yet to use such effective self-review processes to design their mathematics curriculum in response to what they knew about all their students. In about half the schools, leaders and teachers were collecting and analysing mathematics achievement data but were not yet using it to review and adapt their school’s mathematics curriculum. Priority learners in these schools should benefit from a school curriculum that regularly adapts to learners’ interests, strengths and next developmental needs.

Use of achievement information

In the schools where mathematics standards’ achievement information was well used, leaders played a critical role in establishing school-wide processes. They developed assessment processes for multiple purposes that enabled trustees, teachers and students to reflect on progress and achievement and to identify any next steps for which they were responsible. Such use was integral to school-level self review and to teaching as inquiry processes. However, in two-thirds of schools achievement information could have also been used to make sound resourcing decisions, and determine the focus of professional development to build teacher capability.

Student involvement in understanding their achievement and knowing where they needed to improve remains an area of particular concern. Students were using mathematics achievement information well in only seven percent of schools. In 29 percent of the schools, students were not aware of their progress and achievement, or involved in assessing their own learning related to the mathematics standards. This is a recurring finding in ERO’s series of national evaluation reports about schools working with the National Standards within The New Zealand Curriculum.

Accelerating the progress of learners below and well below the mathematics standards

Accelerating the progress of students working below or well below the mathematics standards was challenging for most schools. In a few schools, leaders and teachers were focused on using teaching strategies that were proving to be effective in accelerating progress for these learners. Some of these schools were using research evidence to rethink what they were doing to support learners, particularly in relation to identifying teaching strategies.

However, this was not the case in most schools where a ‘business as usual’ approach to supporting priority learners prevailed. The majority of these schools were able to identify those learners who were not achieving the mathematics standards but continued to use the same teaching strategies, programmes and initiatives they had tried before. Most used ability groupings within or across classes or resourced teacher aides. Few had evidence that such programmes, initiatives and interventions, or additional staffing, such as teacher aides, actually accelerated the progress of their priority learners.

These findings reflect those of ERO’s 2008 report Schools’ Provision for Students at Risk of Not Achieving[1] in which concerns were expressed about what schools were doing to evaluate their support for identified learners.

As part of its Better Public Services programme the Government has set 10 targets to be achieved over the next five years. One of these is that 85 percent of 18 year olds will have achieved National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 2 or an equivalent qualification in 2017.

The findings of this evaluation highlight the need for urgent action to ensure students currently in Years 4 to 8 receive the necessary support to accelerate their progress so they can attain future qualifications.