In this evaluation the Education Review Office (ERO) explored how well 193 schools[1] with Years 1 to 8 students were undertaking deliberate actions that led to an increase in the number of students achieving ‘at’ or ‘above’[2] the national standards for their year group. ERO was particularly interested in schools’ responses to raising achievement for Māori and Pacific students who are over-represented in the ‘below’ and ‘well below’ national standards groups.

When compared to earlier ERO evaluations, this evaluation provides evidence of considerable improvement in teachers and leaders capability to use assessment data to respond to students achieving below expectations. ERO found an increasing number of schools with Years 1 to 8 students adapting their responses for students achieving below national standards.

Half the schools investigated had used deliberate actions to support students to accelerate progress and sustain achievement equivalent to their year group.[3] In particular, Māori and Pacific students, and English language learners that needed support to accelerate their progress were targeted, and experienced success.

Many of these schools had focused their efforts on students at all year levels, and across mathematics, reading and writing. They were strategic and successful in their actions to accelerate progress. Other effective schools had strategically trialled a new approach in one area and were now spreading the trial by increasing the number of students and teachers involved in the new approach. Teachers and leaders in these two groups of schools were innovatively responding to underachievement. This meant they were trialling well-researched strategies rather than continuing with what was obviously not making a difference.

In contrast, the other half of schools responded to underachievement with more-of-the-same, but for some students it was not working. The schools were utilising time, effort and resources to provide additional support for students but did not have specific implementation plans or evaluation processes. With no overall improvement plan the responses to teacher professional development and student learning needs were either too general or fragmented. Most of these schools were aware of the need to support students to catch-up while some of the less effective schools had little sense of urgency.

In the most effective schools leadership promoted teamwork and high quality relationships with students, their parents and whānau, and other professionals to support acceleration of progress. Teachers and leaders in effective schools were able to explain how others could help them while also being very clear that they were responsible for student achievement. They understood the rationale for targeting resources to accelerate progress for particular groups of students.

Leaders in less effective schools had not developed a coherent plan to improve achievement that included both long-term preventative and short-term remedial responses. Instead they often focused on short-term actions that were not well resourced or evaluated for impact. Often individual teachers, or teacher aides, were expected to be responsible for accelerating progress. Any gains by students were often not maintained as the supplementary[4] instruction did not complement the classroom experiences. In many cases there was no ongoing monitoring of progress.

Most boards allocated resources for programmes for students to catch-up. In the effective schools trustees demanded achievement-based reports about the impact of their resourcing decisions. In the less effective schools there appeared to be a disconnect between school targets and resourcing decisions at the board level. Trustees should expect reports from school leaders about how the resources are working for the students that need to accelerate their progress.

In the effective schools students experienced a high-quality rich curriculum. This meant high-quality classroom and supplementary teaching for students who had been achieving below national standards. These students knew what and how they learnt, and they knew their teachers were supporting them to succeed. Success energised these students.

I’ve gone from writing boring sentences to using lots more interesting words. I smack right into it! (A student from a low decile, large urban, contributing primary school)

I thought I couldn’t do maths so I didn’t really try. Now I know I’m as good as my friends. (A student from a low decile, mid-sized rural, full primary school)
It made me understand and think about words. It’s helped me read instructions when I do mathematics.(A student from a low decile, medium-sized urban, contributing primary school)