Promoting and monitoring high expectations for achievement

For teachers, school leaders and boards of trustees, improving student achievement through good teaching is of prime importance. National Administration Guideline 1 requires each board of trustees, through its principal and staff to develop and implement teaching and learning programmes that focus on student achievement in literacy. This is a key area of accountability in teaching and learning..

When school-wide assessment processes are carried out effectively, school leaders carefully decide the data they will collect, the assessment tools they will use, and how and when they will collate and report the data. They also agree on performance expectations for their children. Using reference points at different stages or year levels allows them to see whether individuals and groups of children are on track to meet these expectations. Careful scrutiny of collated information also allows teachers, school leaders and boards to decide where to put their resources to ensure that children at risk of not achieving have the support to succeed.

ERO considered these questions in investigating schools’ expectations for achievement:

  • How well does the school promote high levels of children’s achievement in reading and writing?
  • How well do school leaders monitor achievement and progress in reading and writing?

Promoting high expectations for achievement in reading and writing

Effective schools set clear well-founded expectations for achievement in reading and writing. These expectations sufficiently challenge their children. They have processes that help them use their student achievement information to review and improve their teaching and learning programmes. Effective schools share their expectations with parents and families, and use evidence of children’s achievement and progress to help their parents support learning.

In making a judgement on how schools promoted high levels of achievement in reading and writing, ERO investigated how well the school’s expectations for learning and achievement were understood.

Reading and writing achievement expectations were not always clearly stated or well understood by teachers, school leaders and parents. In some schools expectations were clear in reading or writing, but not in both. Some schools had informal expectations, known by many teachers, but not formalised or shared with the board or parents. In some schools expectations were clear, but provided considerable challenge for children. However, other expectations were more readily attainable and not likely to encourage teachers to improve their practices and programmes or heighten what they expected of children.

Figure 7: Schools’ promotion of high achievement in reading and writing

This is a bar graph. The y axis is called percent of schools and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x axis has four labels they are Strong evidence 26%, Some evidence 29%, Limited evidence 26% and no evidence 19%

Figure 7 shows that there was either some evidence or strong evidence of the promotion of high levels of achievement in reading and writing in just over half the schools. In just over a quarter of schools there was limited evidence while in 19 percent there was no evidence of clearly understood or pursued expectations.

What was working well in schools

Effective schools had clearly expressed, well-known and well-documented literacy expectations. These were stated as expected reading book levels, six-year net results and writing stages. They were agreed, written and shared with the school community, and used as part of class and school-wide monitoring and review.Expectations outlined achievement levels children were expected to reach after six months, a year and two years at school. Teachers and school leaders used resources such as the draft Literacy Learning Progressions, standardised six-year net scores and the Progress Indicators (English Matrix) from The New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars as reference points to set or modify their expectations. Schools’ expectations were developed after reviewing assessment information already collected and were amended to reflect changes in student performance.

Expectations were challenging and focused on improvement. Some teachers understood they were expected to match or exceed national achievement levels. School decile ranking appeared not to be a significant determinant of expectation: some low decile schools aimed to have children achieving at nationally-referenced expectations and constantly reviewed progress towards meeting their goals. Some teams or syndicates set their own annual targets and included these as part of teachers’ appraisal goals and for deciding on professional learning and development needs. These targets often promoted improved achievement for groups of children at different year levels and from different ethnic groups or gender. Students’ progress rates were monitored regularly and used to identify the need for support or enrichment programmes.

High, but realistic, reading and writing achievement expectations were shared with parents and families. They received reliable and accurate information about how their child was achieving and progressing compared to school and/or nationally referenced expectations. Parents were invited to information evenings to learn more about expected achievement levels and how they could help their child at home. Children were expected to make meaningful progress right from when they began school.Examples of promoting high achievement expectations

Contributing primary, urban, small, low decile

Teachers know that the school expects children to read at, or very near to, national expectations and be writing at levels commensurate with year and age level. Many of the children began with limited reading and writing skills when they started school. Teachers understood that although children’s progress in reading and writing may have been delayed, it was their job to provide the sound foundation for their ongoing learning to help them meet national expectations.

Full primary, rural, small, high decile

The school has very clear expectations as to how children should be achieving in reading. A graph is used to monitor each child’s progress in reading over the first three years at school. This clearly shows what the school’s expectations are and allows the teacher to quickly see where the child is compared with where they should be. There is also very specific detail about teaching and learning expectations. For each colour on the Ready to Read colour wheel, there is a list of learning objectives to cover. The classroom teacher in the junior room has also written a detailed description of her reading programme. This means that if she was sick or to leave, the new teacher would have clear steps to follow. This description includes notes on assessment practices and tools.

What was not working well

Some schools had no reading and writing achievement expectations in place for Years 1 and 2. Other schools’ expectations were not improvement focused or based on student achievement data collected in the school. Although there was often a stated expectation for reading levels a year after the child started school it was not clear what could be expected at other points in the first two years of school.

Some teachers could describe informal expectations that were not explicitly stated or shared with all teachers, trustees and children’s families. Teachers in syndicates did not have a consistent understanding of what reading level children were expected to achieve at the various stages during Years 1 and 2. Families were not well informed about how well their children should be achieving in the reading and writing.

In some high decile schools, teachers described how they preferred to give children time to consolidate new learning and, accordingly, set expectations lower or just approaching nationally referenced expectations. Teachers stated that if expectations were raised, too many children would be seen to be failing. Consequently, they set lower goals which they thought were more attainable. Some teachers highlighted what they described as children’s inadequate preparation for school, without focusing and building on the skills and knowledge they brought with them. Expectations were too low to challenge the children coming from the school’s community.Expectations were broad and provided limited information to contribute to school self review and improvement. Goals, such as children writing three sentences by the time they turn six, provided little opportunity for discussions about good quality writing. Informal expectations that children would read or write at their chronological age were not well understood when teachers, trustees and parents were not certain what reading or writing behaviours a child needed to achieve at their chronological age.Examples of little promotion of high achievement expectations

Full primary, urban, large, low decile

School expectations for achievement in reading were clearly stated in school documentation, but were well below nationally referenced expectations. School-wide achievement records did not clearly outline what the national expectation was, so it was not obvious to teachers, parents and trustees if children were achieving below this when they reported children as achieving at the school expectation.

Contributing primary, urban, small, medium decile

The school’s expectations were not documented, and were informally kept in teachers’ heads rather than explicitly stated.

The goals and targets schools are setting for Years 1 and 2 children

School leaders were asked to describe reading or writing goals, targets or expectations they had set for their Years 1 and 2 children in 2009. Although many schools had expectations in place, the clarity of these or likelihood that they would promote improvements varied considerably.

Reading goals and expectations

Eighty-four percent of schools who completed the school questionnaire reported they had a reading goal or target for children at the end of Year 1, while only 72 percent of these schools had goals or targets for children’s reading achievement after their second year at school. This reflected the number of schools that set expectations linked to six-year net testing, but then had no explicit goals for Year 2 children. When children start school they progress through books levelled in different colour groups from the Ready to Read series. [19] The draft Literacy Learning Progressions suggest that children should be reading at Green in the Ready to Read series after one year of instruction and at Purple after two years.

Table 3: Year 1 reading goals or targets for after one year at school or end of Y1


Percent of schools

Children will be reading at Orange or RR Levels 15/16 1%
Children will be reading at Green or RR Levels 12/13/14 25%
Children will be reading at Dark Blue or RR Levels 9/10/11 12%
Children will read at Yellow or RR Levels 6/7/8 4%
Children will achieve to national levels 2%
Children will achieve within a defined wedge graph 3%
Children will read within a year of, at or above their chronological age 12%
Specific skills listed such as reading on and knowing basic word list 8%
Children will show a love for or interest in reading 5%
Goal were non-specific and did not outline the actual expectation 8%
Goal described expected progress i.e. increase reading level by 10 months 2%
Children will read with understanding 2%
No goals or targets are set for reading at end Year 1 16%

About a quarter of schools that completed the questionnaire had goals set for Year 1 children’s reading that match the reference points in the draft Literacy Learning Progressions. No achievement goals or targets were set for Year 1 children in 16 percent of the schools.Table 4: Year 2 reading goals or targets for, after two years at school or end of Y2

Target Percent of schools
Children will be reading at or above Gold or Level 21 1%
Children will be reading at Purple or RR Levels 19/20 14%
Children will achieve within a defined wedge graph or at national levels 2%
Children will be reading at Turquoise (or Light Blue) RR level 17/18 14%
Children will be reading at Orange or RR level 15/16 5%
Children will be reading at Blue or Green or RR levels 11/13/14 1%
Children will be correctly read a given number of words from word lists 2%
Children will be reading at their chronological age 16%
Targets were non-specific such as reach their age appropriate level 10%
Children will achieve the small range of skills listed by individual schools 7%
No target or goals set for end of Year 2 in reading 28%

At least 17 percent of schools that completed the questionnaire had expectations set for the end of Year 2 that matched or exceeded the expectations in the draft Literacy Learning Progressions. Twenty-eight percent of schools had not set reading goals for their Year 2 children.

Goals suggesting an emphasis on chronological reading age were often linked to a school-wide focus on measuring achievement by comparing a child’s actual age to their reading age. The practice of reporting chronological reading age is not useful for Years 1 and 2 children as all five-year-olds are identified as reading at a five-year-old level and above. Those who are not making expected progress are therefore not identified until they are six or seven-years-old, when the process can finally demonstrate that they are falling behind. Some goals were not easy for trustees or parents to understand. They lacked specificity and outlined the percentage of children they aimed to have read above expectation, without stating the actual expectation. Some schools set the goal of having children love reading.

While this is a highly desirable outcome, it lacks a focus on improving achievement, and is difficult to measure. In other schools, leaders listed sets of skills children were to achieve. Some expectations, that children would learn to integrate different sources of information or would think more critically about text, had little emphasis on the range of reading skills Years 1 and 2 children need to learn and build on.

Writing goals and expectations

Seventy-one percent of schools that completed the questionnaire reported having a writing goal or target for Year 1 children, and 70 percent had goals or targets for Year 2 children’s writing achievement.

Schools were using various tools to explain writing achievement expectation. Some used the levels from the New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars English matrix or a modified matrix linked to asTTle assessments. Some schools used the term Level 1 basic (1b) to describe the writing behaviours of beginning writers. Children then moved through to level 1(ii) or level 1 proficient (1p), level 1(iii) or level 1 advanced (1a) before starting the first stage of level 2.Table 5: Year 1 writing goals or targets for after one year at school or end of Year 1

Target Percent of schools
Writing matrix level 1 (iii) or level 1a 2%
Writing matrix level 1 (ii) or level 1p 18%
Writing matrix level 1 (i) or level 1b 11%
Criteria lists focused on letter formation, letter-sound relationships and encoding words 10%
Criteria lists focused on how many sentences or words the child can write 10%
At or above the unexplained expectation 6%
Chronological writing age 3%
First Steps - experimental writer level 2%
Move 1 or 2 stages or sub levels in a year 2%
Stages or mastery of phonics programmes 1%
Plan and share their own ideas 1%
Could write a given number of words in 10 minutes 1%
Other categories 4%
No writing goals or targets set 29%

Many schools were not confident about setting achievement goals or targets for beginning writers. Twenty-nine percent reported no writing goals for young children. Thirty-seven percent set a quantitative achievement goal or target to show how well their children should achieve by the end of Year 1. Most of these used the English matrix from The New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars or a modified matrix that used asTTle terms.

Twenty percent of schools defined specific sets of skills that children should be able to demonstrate. These generally focused on the formation of letters, words and sentences. Some goals included in the ‘other categories’ section had expectations such as enjoyment of writing, use of finger spaces between words or ability to copy and read back their own sentences. Goals that suggested children would achieve a chronological writing age, or that a given percentage would reach an unstated expectation, indicated a lack of confidence in setting measurable writing targets. Table 6: Year 2 writing goals or targets for after two years at school or end of Year 2

Target Percent of schools
Writing matrix level 2 or level 2b 1%
Writing matrix level 1 (iii) or level 1a 22%
Writing matrix level 1 (ii) or level 1p 5%
Criteria lists focused on spelling, punctuation and a set number of sentences 16%
Criteria focused developing and extending ideas 6%
At or above an unexplained expectation 6%
Chronological writing age 4%
First Steps - early writer 2%
Move 1 or 2 stages or sub levels in a year 2%
Completed various spelling lists 2%
Other categories 4%
No writing goals or targets set 30%

Thirty percent of schools that completed the questionnaire reported having no goals or targets for improving the achievement of Year 2 children in writing.

Schools leaders monitoring achievement and progress in reading and writing

Effective schools use achievement information to set annual goals and targets, and monitor children’s progress against these targets. They also use their data to decide which interventions are necessary and where to allocate learning resources. They further use achievement information to decide what PLD is needed to support teaching and learning. Planning for improvement is likely to be enhanced when school leaders and trustees know which aspects of teaching support children to achieve. The quality of monitoring and review is a critical aspect of effective school practice. 

Figure 8: Monitoring of achievement and progress by school leaders

This is a bar graph. The y axis is called percent of school leaders and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x axis has four labels they are Very effective 21%, Adequate 16%, Limited  28% and Poor 35%

Sixty-three percent of schools did not monitor reading and writing achievement well. Figure 8 shows that only 21 percent of schools had very effective and a further 16 percent had adequate processes for monitoring reading and writing achievement in Years 1 and 2.

What was working well in schools

School leaders understood the importance of using achievement data for self review. They could visualise monitoring and review as a cyclical endeavour or inquiry process, where the data gathered from assessments provided the basis on which school decisions were made to improve learning.

Effective school leaders asked three important questions about their data:

  1. How are our Years 1 and 2 children achieving in reading and writing; are they where they need to be to succeed and where do we now need to focus?
  2. What do we need to do to support teachers to ensure that all groups of children in Years 1 and 2 progress and achieve appropriately?
  3. How successful have we been – how do we know that what we put in place worked?

These questions leaders asked successfully exemplify the ‘Teaching as Inquiry’ process.

Often a leader, such as the deputy principal or the literacy leader was responsible for monitoring achievement and progress information for Years 1 and 2 children. They shared and discussed their findings with the principal and school board. In other cases the principal collated, analysed and shared the data. Syndicates and teams also discussed and used data to evaluate their own practices and decide on PLD priorities.

Achievement information was used to decide about interventions for children requiring learning support. School charter targets focused on specific groups of children identified as needing to improve the most. Information about the selection of students and allocation of resources for interventions were shared with the board, and later the programme outcomes were reported. This was seen as highly important because of the considerable investment boards make in resourcing learning for these young students.

Examples of effective monitoring of achievement and progress

Contributing primary, urban, large, low decile

The assistant principal tracks student achievement in the junior syndicate and reviews this to check that all children are progressing at suitable rates. Data is shared with the school trustees, and on the basis of this information, the board supported the buddy reading programme and invested extra resources in the reception class. Children’s learning needs are identified soon after they started school and there is close monitoring of progress made by children needing extra support.

Contributing primary, urban, medium size, medium decile

Good processes are in place for the early identification of those children needing additional support. As well as children at risk of not achieving, children with gifts and talents are included. Processes are in place for teachers to collaboratively discuss children’s achievement, rates of progress, effective teaching practices and to share possible solutions for those not making the desired progress. Discussions about target groups of children were comprehensive.

What was not working well

Sixty-three percent of schools had little evidence of systematic monitoring in Years 1 and 2. School leaders were generally more confident discussing and sharing assessment results for the middle or upper primary school, than for Years 1 and 2. Some useful assessments such as the six-year net were collated, but only used to decide which children needed to take part in Reading Recovery programmes. This valuable data was not used to reflect on, or adjust, teaching practices, or to review the quality of programmes or interventions.

The lack of agreed or clear achievement expectations made it difficult for some leaders to identify and monitor how Years 1 and 2 children were achieving overall. Reporting how many children school-wide were achieving a year behind their chronological age, also meant emerging issues in the junior school were not identified. The practice of reporting the average reading level for each age group masked information about how many children were falling behind an acceptable level.

Although some school guidelines specified the need to monitor individual children’s reading and writing achievement and progress, there were no expectations to guide who should do this. Some principals felt they didn’t need to look at data for children in Years 1 and 2 as they trusted their junior school teachers or leaders who were experienced and knew their children well. In some cases achievement and progress was monitored for either reading or writing, but not for both.

Some teachers and school leaders did not want to examine their data, or chose to ignore achievement information that did not show positive results. In some schools that were working with a cluster of other schools, a professional development facilitator had collected, or assisted with, data analysis of. However, some teachers and leaders ignored this information and did not share it with the board or their school community. Teachers spent time justifying why the particular assessment tool that was used did not suit their children, or tried to explain what had invalidated the results. Schools did not use data indicating poor achievement to reflect on what they were doing. Instead they used it to request additional funding for adult helpers to support their teaching.

Boards of trustees make many important investment decisions about reading interventions for Years 1 and 2 children. Many school had few processes to monitor the effect of these programmes on children’s achievement. Teachers often shared information with trustees about the programme content without using assessments to demonstrate whether these interventions were improving children’s achievement from when they started, to when they were discontinued from the programme. Examples of ineffective monitoring of or response to achievement expectations

Contributing primary, urban, small, high decile

Although information is reported to the board about reading results from STAR (Years 3 to 6), no information is shared about Years 1 and 2 reading. School entry and six-year net information was collected but not collated, analysed or reported. While writing data was collated and analysed for all year groups, including for Years 1 and 2, this information was not analysed to provide any indication of how children were actually achieving in relation to expectation for their age. In each case, the principal analysed the data and commented that the data for younger children was difficult to interpret, as they were all still learning to write and thus, may all be viewed as average until they were older.

Contributing primary, urban, small, medium decile

Reading and writing assessments are collected for individual classes and sent to the principal at the end of every year. These data are not collated or analysed to show progress or reported to the board to show how well children are achieving. The November 2008 data shows that all children in Years1 and 2 are reading below nationally referenced expectations. The school leaders stated ‘that’s just how it is; children arrive at their school with very few reading and writing skills’. They also believe their children don’t learn any reading and writing skills until they start school.

Interventions provided by schools

Many schools provided intervention programmes or resourced extra teachers or teacher aides to support children who needed additional assistance with reading and writing. In the questionnaire, schools were asked to detail the types of interventions they provided.

Sixty-eight percent of schools who completed the questionnaire used Reading Recovery as an intervention. Most of the children participating in Reading Recovery were in Year 2.

A wide variety of specific reading or oral language programmes were used in many schools’ questionnaire responses. Some were school developed interventions where students worked in small target groups.

Other specific programmes named included:

  • Hei Āwhiawhi Tamariki ki te Pānui Pukapuka (HPP);
  • Bannatyne Programme;
  • Toe by Toe;
  • Davis Learning Strategies;
  • Talk to Learn;
  • Talk First;
  • Hauraki Early Language Programme; and
  • Success Maker.

Table 7 shows the main types of interventions schools reported they were providing to support Years 1 and 2 children.Table 7: School interventions for Years 1 and 2

Intervention Percent of schools
Reading Recovery 68%
Specific Reading Programmes 43%
Oral Language programmes 36%
Teacher Aide [20] 35%
Phonics or letter-sound 19%
Parents and Grandparents 18%
RTLB 14%
RTLit 14%
Peer/Buddy Reading 8%
Paired or small group writing 7%
One-to one instruction 6%
Rainbow Reading 6%
Early Intervention 5%
Handwriting 5%
Cross grouping 4%
Motor or movement programmes 3%
Resource teacher of Māori (RTM) 1%

The July 2008 ERO report Schools’ Provision for Students at Risk of not Achieving [21]found that although most schools could adequately identify children at risk of not achieving in literacy, there was much wider variation in the quality and effectiveness of how schools monitored, reviewed and reported on the interventions provided. The schools’ questionnaire about the teaching of reading and writing in Years 1 and 2 highlighted the significant investment many boards of trustees made on interventions for Years 1 and 2 children.

Schools need to be clear about why they choose particular resources and programmes, and the impact these have on children at risk of not achieving. Principals and senior school leaders have a central role in monitoring these young children’s progress and asking about how best to meet this group’s needs.