Findings

Working with the National Standards: schools

In 2011, ERO’s focus shifted from evaluating preparedness to work with the National Standards to evaluating the extent to which schools were working with them.

Figure 1 shows that 22 percent of the 439 schools were working well with the standards and 59 percent were developing their systems and processes to work with all the requirements of the National Standards. Nineteen percent were not working with all the requirements associated with implementing the standards.

Figure 1: Schools working with the National Standards

figure 1 is a bar graph called Schools working with the National Standards. The y-axis is called percentage of schools and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 10. The x-axis has three labels which are: Working well with all the requirements of the NS 22%, Developing porcesses to work with all the requirements of the NS 59% and Not working with all the requirements of NS 19%.

Working well with the National Standards involve?

In the 22 percent of schools that were working well with the National Standards, trustees, leaders and teachers were using them in their respective roles and responsibilities. As discussed in previous ERO reports, a consistent feature of these schools was the positive approach and commitment of leaders to working with the National Standards as an integral part of their curriculum. Leaders were knowledgeable about the standards and used the Ministry’s website and their professional networks to support their understanding and practice. They developed and implemented plans to guide and support teachers to embed the National Standards in their school’s assessment practices.

Leaders were proactive in their approach, building on existing practice and ensuring staff were well supported to work with the standards. They spent time discussing achievement data, often including teachers in this process. Strategies to target teaching practice were developed collaboratively, and regular discussions in teams or at staff meetings enabled leaders to monitor the impact of strategies for specific students.

School leaders planned for, led and accessed relevant and timely PLD that helped build teacher confidence and capability in working with the standards. PLD was most often focused on helping teachers use a range of assessment tools and other sources of evidence to make and moderate judgements about students’ progress and achievement against the standards.

This report highlights the positive impact of the standards on schools’ curriculum and assessment processes. In schools that were working well with the National Standards:

  • the standards were considered part of their curriculum design and review process
  • leaders and teachers were involved in ongoing review of assessment practices
  • targets and associated action plans were often developed collaboratively
  • teachers were discussing what the standards meant for learners and adapting existing practice to involve them in assessing and monitoring their progress against the standards
  • parents and whānau were well informed about the National Standards through newsletters and meetings
  • an increasing focus on teaching as inquiry included regular scrutiny of achievement data to inform decisions about teaching strategies
  • leaders and teachers were developing a common language and understanding of the standards.

How were schools developing processes to work with the National Standards?

Fifty-nine percent of schools (258 schools) were developing processes to work with the National Standards. Within this group, ERO identified a wide range of practice in terms of what such development involved. Some were starting to consider the standards as part of a review of their curriculum and assessment processes. Other schools were quite well advanced in their development and were refining their assessment processes. These schools were building teacher confidence in making OTJs and associated moderation activities.

Issues and challenges for many of these schools related to improving their assessment processes and usefulness of their achievement information. This included strengthening leaders’ capability to help teachers understand and ‘get inside’ the standards. In some schools, teachers did not have access to relevant PLD opportunities or clear expectations and guidance about the assessment tools to use, how to make OTJs and associated moderation processes.

More detailed findings about these schools are included later in this report, particularly in relation to target setting, improving the quality of achievement data, reporting to parents and whānau, responding to targets, and involving students in their learning.

What were the issues and challenges for schools that were not working with all the requirements of the National Standards?

Nineteen percent (84 schools) were not working with all requirements of the National Standards. Of these schools:

  • 30 were opposed to working with the standards
  • 27 did not have leaders and/or teachers with the assessment capability to work with the standards
  • 11 had significant leadership issues
  • eight were slow to get underway with or had delayed implementing the standards
  • five had a new principal
  • one school had many beginning teachers
  • one school was confused about the use of the National Standards in the bilingual unit
  • one school was referring to the National Standards as their school’s standards eg “ABC School Standards”.

In most of these schools, boards had not received any student achievement information related to the National Standards. Some boards were getting achievement information but it was not based on the standards. In a few schools, trustees had received some information about the standards but only in relation to one aspect (eg, reading) or only for some year levels.

Nearly half these schools had set targets, at the time of the review, but these were not in relation to the National Standards.

Other challenges for these schools included:

  • understanding the intent and terminology of the standards
  • setting clear and measurable targets
  • maintaining stable staffing
  • accessing relevant and useful PLD, particularly for trustees
  • developing processes to gather relevant and useful achievement data
  • increasing teachers’ confidence in using multiple sources of evidence to make OTJs
  • shifting negative attitudes towards the standards
  • school structures, for example in a composite school [4] where two departments (Years 1-6 and Years 7-15) were operating separately
  • developing systems to report to parents after 1, 2 and 3 years at school.

The extent and nature of support these schools needed varied. Some had multiple issues to be addressed. These schools needed relevant, focused and sustained PLD to build both leader and teacher capability to work with all requirements associated with implementing the standards. Working with other schools and learning from them, could help some of these schools move forward.

Trustees needed help to understand the intent of the standards in raising student achievement and communicate this to parents and whānau. Teachers needed to improve their use of various assessment tools and their confidence with analysing and moderating student achievement data. Some also needed to better understand the intent of the National Standards and their role in using data to respond to and accelerate the progress of learners.

In schools that were resisting or opposed to working with the requirements of the National Standards, additional support was not always going to make a difference.

It is of concern that nearly half (13 schools) of the 30 schools opposed to working with the National Standards were low decile (1-3) schools. ERO’s education review reports for these 13 schools highlighted the need for an increased focus on groups of learners who are not achieving to expected levels as referenced in the standards.

The intent of the National Standards is to enable schools to use achievement information to identify learners who are not making expected progress and accelerate their progress. It is disappointing that there were 84 schools in which leaders and teachers were not successfully using the standards to ascertain how well students were achieving in reading, writing and mathematics. Parents who have children attending these schools do not know how their child is achieving in relation to others of a similar age.

Working with the National Standards: trustees, school leaders and teachers

ERO investigated the extent to which trustees, school leaders and teachers were working with the National Standards in their respective roles. [5] This is a changed emphasis from previous reports when ERO looked at how well trustees, leaders and teachers understood the standards. Figure 2 shows the extent to which school personnel were working with the National Standards, as found in this 2012 study.

Figure 2: Extent to which trustees, school leaders and teachers were working with the National Standards

Figure 2 is a bar graph called Extent to which trustees, school leaders and teachers were working with the National Standards. The y-axis is called pecentage of schools and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 10. The x-axis is called school personnel groups and has three labels.  Each label has three bars which represent Working well with NS, Developing processes to work with all the requirements of the NS and Not working with all the requirements of the NS. For Trustees the percentages are respectively 29%, 45% and 26%, for School leaders 31%, 50% and 19% and for Teachers 25%, 55% and 20%.

Trustees working with the National Standards

Trustees need to have a good understanding of the intent of the National Standards and what they mean for their role and responsibilities. It is crucial that trustees understand their obligations with regards to the standards and the board’s role in raising student achievement. This includes receiving regular reports from school leaders about students’ progress and achievement against the National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics. Trustees need the confidence and knowledge to question the information they receive, to use it to set targets in their annual charters, to make appropriate resourcing decisions, and to monitor progress towards targets as part of their ongoing self review.

In the 29 percent of schools where trustees were working well with the standards, this was often attributed to the support they had received to help them understand the intent and nature of the standards and to make relevant decisions based on information reported to them.

A key issue for trustees was ensuring they received regular reports about students’ progress and achievement in relation to the National Standards. Not having such information impacted on the relevance and quality of targets set to raise achievement for specific groups of learners. It also made it difficult for the board to monitor progress towards meeting their targets.

School leaders working with the National Standards

Effective professional leadership is fundamental to working well with the National Standards. Highly professional leaders are committed to making a difference to all students’ educational achievement. They understand the intent of the National Standards in raising the achievement of all learners and know how to work with their school community to realise this intent. They are skilled at collating and scrutinising school-level achievement information about students’ progress and achievement against the National Standards and regularly reporting this to the board of trustees.

Effective leaders recognise the value of using data to make evidence-based decisions to improve teaching programmes, implement and review targeted interventions and plan for PLD. They are proactive in building a school culture in which teachers engage in discussions about data, share teaching strategies and evaluate their impact on outcomes for learners. Leaders ensure that teachers do not work in isolation and take collective responsibility for learners’ progress and achievement.

In the 31 percent of schools where school leaders were working well with the standards, it was largely because of their participation in targeted PLD. Such development increased their understanding of the standards and helped them lead development with teachers and the wider school community.

A key issue for school leaders was in helping teachers gather and analyse assessment data to inform OTJs and subsequent reporting to parents and to the board of trustees. The way leaders worked with teachers to improve the quality and usefulness of assessment data was critical to working well with the standards.

Teachers working with the National Standards

Teachers who are confident in working with the National Standards have a good understanding of them and their implications for teaching and learning. They know about the school’s targets to raise achievement and respond appropriately through their teaching. Teachers are confident about making OTJs based on multiple sources of evidence and explore ways to moderate their data with colleagues. They work with students to help them understand their progress and achievement, set goals in relation to the standards, and identify their next steps for learning.

In the 25 percent of schools where teachers were working well the National Standards, it was largely because of the PLD opportunities they had been involved in. PLD increased their understanding and awareness of the standards and of student achievement across the school and within their class. In some schools, teachers were very responsive to targets to raise student achievement, and confidently incorporated the standards into their conversations with students and when they reported to parents and whānau.

A key issue for teachers was finding ways to share information with students about their progress and achievement against the standards that enabled them to take an active role in assessing and reflecting on their learning and determining their next steps to meet or exceed the standard.

A closer look at how schools are working with the National Standards

This section provides more detail about what schools were doing to support their work with the National Standards. It reports ERO’s findings about:

  • how trustees and leaders used school-level achievement data to set targets in their 2011 charters
  • how school leaders improved the quality of their assessment data and associated analysis
  • schools’ reporting to parents and whānau about their child’s progress and achievement against National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics
  • how teachers responded to targets through their teaching
  • how teachers reported to students about their progress and achievement against National Standards.

Target setting

Setting targets is a key part of a school’s planning and reporting process to raise students’ educational achievement. It is the core business of a school and requires a collaborative approach in which trustees, leaders and teachers contribute to, and understand, the rationale for the targets and decisions about how to meet them. Ongoing monitoring of progress towards targets is integral to this process.

ERO investigated how schools were using school-level achievement information to set targets to raise student achievement in reading, writing and mathematics. At the time ERO reviewed each school, about three-quarters of the 439 schools had set targets related to the National Standards in their 2011 charters. However, the quality and nature of these targets varied considerably.

In schools where targets were usefully focused on accelerating the progress of students achieving below or well below the standards, this was based on a well-considered analysis and interpretation of student achievement information. In-depth analysis by school leaders enabled trustees to set specific targets for groups of students identified as achieving below or well below the standards. The rationale for the targets was clear and explicit. A collaborative approach saw trustees working well with school leaders and teachers to set them. Trustees were confident to ask questions of the data reported to them and targets were focused on accelerating progress, with a strong commitment to doing just that.

Where action plans were developed to achieve targets, the focus was on the implications for teaching and learning, the provision of targeted PLD, resourcing, and reporting. Progress towards targets was well monitored, with regular updates reported to the board.

ERO identified several issues with target setting, particularly about the usefulness and relevance of targets and the extent to which they were improvement focused. Sometimes trustees and leaders were working in isolation from teachers, with a lack of connection between what the leadership was trying to achieve and what was happening for learners in the classroom. Other issues associated with target setting in some schools included:

  • targets not being informed by school-level data
  • trustees not receiving information about student achievement against the National Standards
  • trustees not being involved in target setting or resourcing decisions
  • teachers not being included in decisions about, or aware of, the targets that had been set
  • very broad or general targets that were difficult to measure progress towards
  • targets not being focused on students below or well below the standards
  • a lack of processes to monitor progress over the year
  • trustees not receiving regular reports to enable them to monitor progress towards targets.

Just under half the schools that had not set targets were still in the process of doing so at the time of their ERO review, which for many was early in 2011. Of the remaining schools, some had set targets that were not against the National Standards and others had not set any targets. Many of these schools were those that were opposed to working with the National Standards. Poor quality data and/or the recent appointment of a new principal also contributed to the lack of targets in a few schools.

Improving the quality of data and associated analysis

Effective school leaders work with teachers to gather, collate and explore school-level data with an unrelenting focus on using it to improve student achievement. They review and develop assessment processes and support teachers to determine, moderate and report judgements about students’ progress and achievement.

ERO investigated how schools leaders were improving the quality of data and associated analysis at a school level. Three key factors emerged that were important to such improvement: relevant external PLD for school leaders in their role; appropriate and timely support for teachers; and review and development of systems and processes.

Where school leaders were improving the quality of their school-level data and associated analysis, this was largely attributed to their involvement in external PLD. Useful PLD focused on:

  • increasing school leaders’ understanding of the National Standards
  • helping school leaders work with the standards in the context of their school curriculum and associated processes of gathering, collating, analysing and using school-level data
  • increasing leaders’ use of school-level data for making decisions about programmes and resources
  • helping leaders improve the quality of assessment processes, including setting clear expectations about how teachers reached their OTJs and associated moderation practices.

Some leaders were working with other schools in existing clusters or networks, or in more recently established clusters with neighbouring or similar schools. In other schools, leaders were supported through coaching from external facilitators, involvement in post graduate study, or first-time principal support.

A mix of internal and external PLD was most successful in supporting teachers to work with data. This often included whole staff, syndicate or team meetings along with some externally facilitated PLD related to school-determined priorities such as literacy or numeracy.

In some schools, leaders worked alongside teachers, mentoring them and sharing professional readings. Leaders introduced new assessments and increased consistency in the use of existing tools. Leaders helped teachers to understand the concept of OTJs and the implications for their practice in terms of moderation and reporting to parents. Teachers were also guided by leaders in their use of data to decide on strategies to accelerate progress.

At a system level, school leaders focused on developing and reviewing the processes to work with the National Standards. Work on systems and processes included:

  • introducing new student management systems to streamline data gathering, analysis and reporting
  • reviewing the use of assessment tools
  • developing various frameworks (rubrics and matrices) to align assessment tools and existing learning progressions with the standards
  • developing or refining guidelines and expectations about curriculum and assessment to guide teacher practice, for example moderation protocols, and guidelines for making OTJs
  • establishing or reviewing how students’ progress could be monitored over time.

Issues and challenges related to school leaders improving the quality of their data and associated analysis included:

  • the lack of a current and relevant school curriculum to work with
  • limited skills to analyse data well, which limited the ability to identify students needing support
  • limited or no school-wide data
  • confusion about the difference between National Standards and national norms from other formal tests
  • a lack of guidance for teachers about assessment, particularly in the use of tools, making OTJs and moderation
  • OTJs being based on insufficient evidence, for example, OTJs based on only one assessment
  • finding ways to report on students after 1, 2 and 3 years at school within existing reporting timelines.

Reporting to parents and whānau

Reporting to parents and whānau is integral to home-school partnerships that promote worthwhile engagement between teachers, students and their families. It focuses on building and strengthening partnerships with parents and whānau by reporting each child’s progress and achievement in plain language. This includes informing parents about how they can support their child’s learning at home.

ERO investigated whether schools had provided parents and whānau with two plain language reports in 2010 about their child’s progress and achievement against the National Standards. Sixty percent (263 schools) had reported twice to parents and whānau in 2010 about their child’s progress and achievement against the standards in reading, writing and mathematics.

Forty percent (176 schools) did not report twice in 2010. However, a third of these schools partially met reporting requirements. Some reported once, either at the beginning or end of 2010. A few only reported on some aspects of the National Standards, or only for some year levels. The remaining two-thirds did not report at all in 2010. Many of these schools were continuing to report against curriculum levels or school expectations rather than the National Standards. Others did not meet reporting requirements because they were opposed to the National Standards.

Seeking feedback from parents and whānau about reporting

Seventy percent of the 439 schools in this evaluation had sought feedback from parents and whānau about the nature and usefulness of reporting. The most common way of seeking this feedback was through surveys and questionnaires. Other means of seeking feedback included discussion at parent interviews, parent evenings, hui, fono, focus groups, and through informal chats.

Feedback in most of these schools was generally positive, with parents indicating they were happy with the way the school was reporting to them. Parents appreciated the helpfulness and clarity of reports, knowing where their child was in relation to the National Standards, their next steps and what they could do to help at home. In some schools parents were involved in more informed conversations with their child’s teacher and found student-led conferences useful as they provided an opportunity to better understand reported information.

Issues parents raised included difficulty with understanding their child’s report, especially where there were graphs but no explanation. Some wanted more specific information, for example, if their child was well above or just above the standards. For others, reports lacked information that had been included in the past. There was some confusion for parents who thought reporting on the National Standards would provide them with actual test results.

Teachers responding to targets

The notion of collective responsibility for improving student achievement in schools requires teachers to be ‘in-the-loop’ and aware of, and capable of, responding to targets in their teaching. This happens best when:

  • the school culture supports and expects teachers to work with achievement data in their every day teaching
  • teachers have opportunities to engage in robust professional discussion and debate that enables them to share their teaching strategies with colleagues.

Responding to targets in their teaching was not a strong feature of teachers’ work with the National Standards. In 15 percent of the schools, teachers were very aware of the targets to improve students’ progress and achievement against the National Standards and very focused on accelerating students’ progress. Teachers regularly discussed the progress of targeted students with colleagues and actively responded through their teaching. In some of these schools, teachers had contributed to developing the targets and had a good understanding of the school-level achievement data used to determine the targets. Teachers were included in developing action plans that focused on specific strategies to accelerate progress for targeted learners. Such plans often included requirements to monitor progress and were underpinned by a shared responsibility for students’ progress and achievement. Regular meetings and discussions about targets and the progress of particular students were common place. Teachers supported each other as they scrutinised their data and shared effective strategies. PLD helped them to improve their data analysis and adopt an inquiry approach to their teaching.

In some schools, teachers were responding in more traditional ways, such as cross-grouping learners across classes for some subjects, grouping for instruction in their own classroom, and differentiating their planning. These strategies were often used without any monitoring or review of their effectiveness in accelerating the progress of targeted learners.

Issues that made it difficult for teachers to respond to targets through their teaching included:

  • targets not being shared or discussed with teachers
  • targets being too broad or general, making it difficult to identify specific students and impossible to measure progress towards
  • a lack of support to help teachers respond to targets
  • action plans that focused on measuring progress, but did little to identify strategies to accelerate the progress of targeted learners.

In a few schools, targets had only just been set at the time of their ERO review and teachers had not had time to consider their response to them.

Involving students in their learning

A core aspect of students’ learning is the opportunities they are given to assess their own progress and achievement. Such involvement requires active student-teacher collaboration. Developing students’ assessment capabilities engages and motivates them as independent learners. In the context of the National Standards, students gain insights into their learning through understanding the knowledge, skills and behaviours specific to each standard. Learners know their strengths and contribute to determining future learning pathways.

ERO investigated how teachers were sharing information with students about their progress and achievement against the National Standards and how students were involved in monitoring their progress and identifying their next steps for learning.

In its previous reports on how schools were working with the National Standards, ERO highlighted this as an area for development.

The extent to which students were involved in setting and assessing their learning goals related to the National Standards was still not high. Only 32 percent of schools did this well. In its August 2010 report ERO noted this as an area of concern, given it is central to working with the National Standards. [6]

This is an area that schools are still grappling with, both in terms of involving learners more actively in assessing and taking responsibility for setting the direction of their learning, and in sharing information about their progress and achievement against the National Standards.

Twenty percent of schools were using strategies to help learners understand their progress and achievement against the National Standards. In many of these schools, teachers were involved in PLD activities to explore different ways of sharing information about the standards with learners and working with them to set, monitor and review their goals based on assessment data and discussions. Useful strategies included students:

  • having regular conversations about their learning with teachers
  • having a ‘common language’ to talk about their progress and achievement and the National Standards
  • being involved in writing their formal reports
  • leading discussions with their parents and whānau
  • being privy to reports before they were shared with parents
  • knowing criteria for successful achievement of learning intentions and goals.

ERO identified variable practice in how teachers shared assessment information with students in another 20 percent of schools. Most variation was between teachers in the same school, with some variable practice at a team or syndicate level. In some schools, senior students had more opportunities than younger students to set goals and monitor their progress towards them. Where the approach was not consistent across a school, this was often because teachers had no guidance or expectations to follow. In a few of these schools, PLD gave teachers opportunities to share good practice with each other.

Nineteen percent of schools were developing practice in this area. In some of these schools, teachers were involved in PLD to help them increase students’ involvement in their learning. Some were working towards introducing student-led conferences. Others were focused on improving teachers’ confidence to provide learners with useful feedback. Teachers aimed to increase students’ ownership of their learning goals and involve them in determining their next steps for learning.

In a quarter of the schools, teachers were not yet having good conversations with learners about their progress and achievement in relation to the National Standards. Many schools identified this as a next step. Some saw twice yearly reporting as being only to parents and were yet to understand their obligation to also report to students. Some students knew about their achievement in relation to their classmates but had no evidence or knowledge to support this. Inability to do this in some schools linked to wider issues associated with assessment practices and lack of understanding about the National Standards.

In 15 percent of the schools, ERO identified well-established practices to involve students in understanding their progress and achievement, but these were not focused on the National Standards.

Support to work with the National Standards

What has helped schools to work with the National Standards?

The most frequently accessed support was external professional development. This was usually specifically related to the National Standards and included workshops, courses, information evenings and practical sessions. Some professional development was not directly about the National Standards, but included a focus on applying the standards to literacy and numeracy. Several workshops and sessions were on aspects of the standards, such as developing assessment practices and making OTJs. Sometimes all staff had attended these sessions; in other cases, the principal or other selected staff had attended and subsequently shared the learning at in‑school PLD.

Print and online resources were the next most frequently accessed form of support. These included materials produced by the Ministry, such as self-review tools and leaflets for parents, as well as the Ministry’s website. Trustees found these resources useful, particularly when introduced by, and discussed with, school leaders.

In many schools, the principal or senior management team had a good understanding of and/or a strong commitment to the National Standards, and shared this with all staff through in-school professional development.

Often the standards were the topic of discussion at regular meetings, both for lead teachers and all staff. Many schools also held meetings specifically to discuss the standards. In some schools, trustees took part in webinars (web seminars) about working with the National Standards.

School leaders and teachers in a few schools discussed or worked with the National Standards with staff from other schools in their local area. This included moderating data between and across schools, and participating in discussions within their cluster or their local principals’ group.

What challenges do schools face in working with the National Standards?

The most commonly cited challenge with implementing the National Standards was concern around the accuracy and moderation of overall teacher judgements. This included teachers’ confidence in making judgements, the quality of the achievement information used to make them, and the alignment of various assessment tools with the standards. In some schools, the teachers’ capability to make judgements and carry out moderation varied widely across the school.

In schools where the principal, other leaders or teachers either lacked understanding of the standards, or their understanding was quite variable this often carried over to the rest of the staff. In some cases, the variability resulted from a high turnover of staff or leaders.

Sometimes, teachers or leaders who were new to the school and had little prior training or experience in working with the National Standards needed more support to understand developments others in the school had made.

Some school leaders had identified a need to align their school-wide practices with the National Standards requirements. This included aligning the various tools used to make OTJs, ensuring that assessment and moderation processes produced valid and reliable data, and staying focused on The New Zealand Curriculum while using the National Standards to support it.

In other schools, staff had difficulty finding time to develop an understanding of the National Standards and work with them. This was particularly the case in small, isolated rural schools, where the principal and school leaders were often also teachers. Several leaders felt the timeframe to implement the standards was too short.

Staff in a few schools found PLD on the National Standards had been unhelpful, of poor quality or confusing. Some schools in remote areas also had difficulty accessing professional development.

What support is needed?

This evaluation highlighted the nature of support schools need to help them work with the National Standards. Schools need help to:

  • align their assessment tools with the National Standards
  • build capability to analyse and use achievement data, particularly related to target setting and associated reporting of progress and analysis of variance
  • increase teacher confidence in making OTJs
  • moderate their data.

In a few schools, leaders indicated to ERO that exemplars of OTJs would be useful. They also highlighted:

  • the importance of external PLD being available, relevant and tailored to the needs of individual schools, including support for trustees
  • the need for time to embed and consolidate changes they are making as a result of working with the standards
  • the value of having a ‘critical friend’ to give advice about the robustness of assessment/moderation processes
  • the need for support to work with other schools in clusters to learn more about how to moderate OTJs and also to share best practice in working with the National Standards.