A range of international[5] and national[6] reports demonstrate that while the New Zealand education system has provided excellent outcomes for some students, overall improvement has been inconsistent, with significant groups missing out. In particular, the system has not altered the inequitable educational outcomes for a large number of Māori and Pacific students, students who have special education needs, or students from low income backgrounds.

Targeting for equitable outcomes

The challenge for New Zealand’s education system is to bring more students to a higher achievement level, with a broader skill range and more equity of outcomes than ever before. In response to this challenge, the Government’s education targets include 85 percent of 18 year olds achieving National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Level 2 or equivalent by 2017. To support this target, the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) is also focusing on accelerating the progress of Years 1 to 8 students who are achieving ‘ below’ or’ well below’ national standards in mathematics, reading or writing for their year group. The national standards signal the reading, writing and mathematics curriculum expectations that will enable students to engage with all learning areas, and are reference points for the overall goal of confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.

Māori and Pacific students are over-represented in the ‘below’ and ‘well below’ standards groups. For example, in 2012 the total number of students achieving ‘at’ or ‘above’ reading national standards was 76.2 percent, but only 68.2 percent of Māori and 62.8 percent of Pacific students were achieving ‘at’ or ‘above’ the standards.

Evaluating for equitable outcomes

ERO has undertaken several national evaluations[7] to determine how schools are using The New Zealand Curriculum and the national standards to improve all students’ educational outcomes. ERO has also investigated how schools have provided targeted support and whether they are doing something that works for the students underachieving.

ERO’s 2013 evaluation on mathematics in Years 4 to 8[8] found teachers in most schools could identify students who were not achieving but continued to apply the same strategies, programmes and initiatives even though they had not worked. Few had evidence that these approaches actually accelerated progress. ERO concluded that:

Given the significant investment schools are making to raise achievement for priority learners, there needs to be more robust self-evaluation of the effectiveness of resourcing decisions. Bringing about such a change could lead to considerable system-wide improvement in New Zealand schools. (Page 23)

Another 2013 ERO evaluation[9] found highly effective teachers of Years 1 to 8 students:

  • used assessment data well
  • used a range of appropriate teaching strategies and made deliberate teaching choices so students developed the required specific reading, writing and mathematics skills or knowledge
  • used external support judiciously
  • focused strongly on ensuring their students understood how to apply their learning in different contexts across the curriculum
  • developed partnerships with parents and whānau to support students’ learning
  • proactively identified teaching skills they needed to develop.

The evaluation also found highly effective principals:

  • used achievement data effectively to identify priority groups, monitor their progress and evaluate the impact of programmes and systems over time
  • supported staff with clear assessment guidelines and fostered an inquiry-based approach to teaching, learning, and subsequent responsive planning
  • were often well supported by Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs), capable literacy and mathematics leaders, curriculum leaders and learning support teachers.

These evaluations highlight that educators need to know how to use assessment information to trigger a teaching and learning response. Many teachers and school leaders need to change what they are doing if it is not working for some students.

This report builds on these earlier evaluations and focuses on how well schools are responding to achievement information. In particular, it explores the quality of schools’ teaching and learning responses to meet the needs of students who are underachieving.

Research on practices that lead to equitable outcomes

The Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) provides a coherent set of dimensions across leadership, professional learning and development (PLD), and teaching with strong evidence for improving outcomes for diverse (all) students.[10] The BES system improvement and capability building agenda (Alton-Lee, 2012)[11] provides a model for school improvement that will lead to this vision. The model has four levers which, together, can drive change:[12]

  • effective pedagogy for valued outcomes for diverse (all) learners
  • activation of educationally powerful connections
  • leadership of conditions for continuous improvement
  • productive inquiry and knowledge-building for professional and policy learning.

Many schools provide some sort of additional instruction to accelerate students’ progress so they can catch-up to their peers and access the school curriculum. Research has shown that these additional practices:

.....can neither substitute nor compensate for poor-quality classroom instruction. Supplementary [additional] instruction is a secondary response to learning difficulties. Although supplementary [additional] instruction has demonstrated merit, its impact is insufficient unless it is planned and delivered in ways that makes clear connections to the child’s daily experiences and needs during instruction in the classroom.[Snow et al., 1998, pp. 326–327][13]

School curriculum and effective teaching need to link classroom learning and the supplementary learning to ensure students’ additional experiences do not run parallel (or behind) the classroom experiences. This relationship is shown in the following diagram.[14] Often the most appropriate supplementary support is within the classroom.

Figure 1: Using teaching as inquiry to trigger supplementary support for students 

This image describes the framework using teaching as inquiry to trigger supplementary supports for some students.There are five circles that revolve around teaching as inquiry. Attahced to the first circle is a box reading identify the level of support groups of students will need to access this learning focus. The first circle is teaching inquiry what strategies will help my students learn this and what do I need to do differently.  This circle has three arrows branching off the first is a very small group of students may need long term support the second is a small group of students may need short intensive support. These two arrow point to the second circle. The third arrow reads most students need only effective classroom teaching and intellectually stimulating learning experiences with peers, this points to the third circle.  The second circle is teaching and learning supplementary support inquiry schaffolded learning inside and/or outside of the classroom that leads to acceleration of progress so students able to engage with classroom curriculum. The third circle is teaching and learning rich classroom experiences for all students based on school curriculum. The fourth circle is learning inquiry what happened as a result of the teaching? an evaluation of impact including whether students are at or above standard and/or progressing as expected. Between the fourth and fifth circle is a box reading describe what students know and do describe the rich resouces students can bring to the next learning experience. The fifth and last circle is focusing inquiry whats important to learn socio-cultural learning school curriculum.