Back to curriculum for school reports

Farah Hancock looks at how we will be measuring the progress of our children at school in the absence of National Standards

For the first time in 10 years primary schools around the country will be sending school mid-year reports home for year four and above students which are not based on assessments against National Standards.

National Standards was intended to give parents a view on where a child’s reading, writing and mathematics abilities lay in relation to other children in New Zealand. Children were reported to be above, at, below, or well below national standards.

In December 2017 Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced an end to the system. He said schools and parents had lost confidence in the standards and they had become little more than a compliance exercise.

“Parents will still receive reports at least twice a year on their child’s progress and achievement in maths, reading and writing as well as across the curriculum areas. But this reporting will focus on children’s progress, rather than measuring them against arbitrary National Standards.

 “The reports, written in plain English, will relate to where their child is at, at a given point, and the progress shift that has occurred, rather than being judged against others.”

Although work is being done on designing a new approach to assessment and reporting, no government guidance has been given to schools on what to report on in the interim.

There are a number of existing measures which schools may decide to use. These include New Zealand Curriculum levels, progress and achievement tests, STAR reading tests and Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning, as well as continuing to use the National Standards framework.

Newsroom spoke to principals around New Zealand to find out what mid-year reports will look like and report against. Most plan to rewind the clock 10 years to New Zealand Curriculum levels.

“There are better ways to build a nationwide picture.”

Auckland’s Avondale Primary principal, Richard Clarke, said mid-year reports due to be sent home at the beginning of term two will look similar to reports parents have received in the past, but will report against New Zealand Curriculum levels, not National Standards.

“We are letting the parents know that the curriculum levels have been well researched, and they were well set. They weren't broken before National Standards came in. National Standards were neither nationalised nor standardised, they can give an indicative picture.

“Curriculum levels will give you an improved picture, but it won't give you the exact science. It's just not possible.”

Bay of Plenty’s Taneatua School principal, Gary Climo, said teachers who taught before National Standards were introduced will have no problem with completing student reports based on New Zealand Curriculum levels, but newer teachers had asked what they would replace National Standards with.

“The answer there is have a look at your national curriculum maths books have a look at the bands in there. There's your first indicator. Have a look at what the levels equate to in terms of the age group and then have a look at the child's chronological age, their progress and their achievement against those.”

Parents in his community are interested in how their children are progressing, something which could be hard to understand using the National Standards reporting framework.

“What you are doing is ranking a child against a place rather than looking at the child’s progress in terms of what they have learnt and how well they are progressing.”

A key change both he, and Southland’s Dipton School principal Richard Crean said they would be making to mid-year reports, was removing the term ‘below’.

This would be replaced with a term such as ‘working towards’.

Crean said: “As you know every child comes to school with a different lunch box so to speak and they all start at different stages. The big thing is we report where they are at but put a real focus on the progress they are making.”

The term ‘below’ was disliked by teachers, according to Crean.

“Children can be tagged as failing when they're not. They are making progress and do great things in other areas as well.

“They [the children] know that stuff even though you're reporting to parents. It's not a secret to the kids.”

A national picture

Implemented in 1992, the New Zealand Curriculum has achievement levels which are structured differently to National Standards. Eight levels cover 13 years of schooling. A student is likely to spend longer than a year at any given level. National Standards were set by school year.

National Standards only focused on reading, writing and mathematics. As well as English and mathematics the New Zealand curriculum includes arts, sciences, health, learning languages and technology.

Each level has indicators teachers can assess students against. Level two mathematics, which students from year four to six may sit within, has indicators such as knowing simple fractions and basic addition and subtraction.

Victoria University senior lecturer in education, Dr Michael Johnston, said without National Standards New Zealand lacks a comprehensive picture of primary education achievements.

He said governments have “lurched from one policy to another” for primary schools without considering continuity.

“I think it's also unfortunate that both sides of politics have implemented their policies with very little preparation. The National government when they came in, implemented the National Standards with far too much haste in my opinion. I think it could have been done better and could have been more successful if they had taken the time to bring people with them.”

“I think the abolition of them was a bit precipitous. It's all very well to say they weren't working but what do we have instead?  Well, nothing really.”

Currently one New Zealand system does exist to give a national indication of student achievement. The National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) project is a sample-based system which measures year four and eight students against New Zealand Curriculum levels.

The monitoring project, a collaboration between the University of Otago and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), randomly samples 5000 students from state schools each year across the two levels.  Each year one or two subjects are assessed. Over a five-year cycle each subject area in the New Zealand curriculum is monitored.

The first five-year cycle of assessment has been completed and the second cycle is about to begin. Once results from the second cycle are collated, achievement trends would be available.

A monitoring framework such as NSSMA using a sample of students is one way a national picture could be gained without returning to an administratively demanding National Standards approach. The way assessments are run also minimises issues with the consistency of results across different schools.

However, the way the project is currently structured means there is a five-year gap between subject assessments.

In his statement about the demise of National Standards Hipkins said he would be working with the sector to develop a new approach which will strengthen the relationship between home, schools and kura. He expected he would share the new approach with Cabinet by September.

“There are better ways to build a nationwide picture.”

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