Opinion - NZEI

Friday 19 March 2010, 2:37PM
By New Zealand Educational Institute

Many schools will be doing parent-student-teacher interviews in the next few weeks as part of their regular reporting to parents about children’s progress at primary school writes the President of the New Zealand Educational Institute Frances Nelson.

While the Government has made National Standards mandatory this year, requiring schools to report to parents twice about how their children achieve against the Standards, the vast majority of schools can already identify where children’s achievement is at. In saying that, we as educators agree that schools need to be reporting clearly to parents about children’s achievement and progress.

Most schools already use a range of assessment tools that enable schools and their Boards to see how each child, and the school as a whole, is achieving in relation to national norms for children of the same age. Through cross-referencing these nationally recognised assessments, and using the teacher’s own knowledge of each child as well as their professional judgment, schools work to develop an accurate picture of each child’s progress and abilities.

The standardised tools commonly used in New Zealand are based on years of research and evidence about children’s achievement. Their purpose is primarily to help teachers tailor their classroom programmes to meet the needs of the children in their class, and to give parents fair and accurate information about their child’s progress.

They include

  • Probe: Children read from an unseen text where both decoding and comprehension are assessed. This test is used widely within New Zealand schools.
  • STAR: Children complete a written test on making sense of reading. This is a

New Zealand referenced test so our school results can be compared to national levels of achievement. It gives information on word knowledge, sentence comprehension, paragraph comprehension and vocabulary knowledge.


  • NumPa: Children are tested on both number knowledge and strategies to determine their working stage in Numeracy. This data can be compared to New Zealand levels of achievement.
  • asTTle helps teachers create and analyse tests for literacy and numeracy (in English and Māori). The resulting reports show what students know, what gaps they have in their learning, and what they need to learn next. The results also indicate how well students are learning in comparison with other students nationwide.
  • PAT (Progress and Achievement): Children complete a written test that gives

information on all areas of mathematics.

In contrast, there has been no trial of the National Standards. This is why academics and educators are concerned about the validity of the Standards. The assessment tools we currently use map progress; they are not “pass or fail” benchmarks, but instead indicate whether a child is within a norm or level. These norms or levels are generally wider than a single age year “average”, because children do not progress in neat annual steps, particularly in their first years at school.

We are also concerned about the accuracy of the Standards. Children will be assessed as being “above standard”, “at standard”, “below standard” or “well below” standard, but it is not clear that the levels the Standards have been set at are accurate. Unlike our current tools that are based on evidence of what children currently achieve, the Standards have been determined by “chunking back” year by year from NCEA Level 2. They were developed in a few months without the input of principals or teachers.

Finally, to be truly “national” Standards, they must be used and interpreted consistently across all schools. This requires “moderation” in which results are compared and discussed so there can be confidence that individual teachers and schools are being consistent and fair. Most schools already “moderate” between teachers and classes, and some schools “moderate” their results between local clusters of schools, but there has been no moderation process yet agreed or resourced for National Standards. The moderation process for NCEA, which includes the use of external moderators, has taken seven years to develop.

Contrary to the Education Minister's claim that most schools are implementing the National Standards "really, really well", many schools have adopted a "wait and see" policy. They are delaying implementation, not because they wish to break the law, but because they are concerned about the untested nature of the Standards and because the professional development to support their implementation has not yet been made widely available. Above all, they want to ensure that children’s learning is put first, not used for a political experiement.