OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education - NZ
Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education
Deborah Nusche, Dany Laveault, John MacBeath and Paulo Santiago
Since the establishment of self-managing schools in 1989, New Zealand has one of the most devolved school systems in the world. Average student learning outcomes are very good by international comparison even though there are concerns about the proportion of students that are not performing well. The current priorities for the school sector are to lift student achievement in literacy and numeracy, enable all young people to achieve worthwhile qualifications and ensure that Māori students achieve education success “as Māori”. As part of the national strategy to achieve these goals, New Zealand has developed its own distinctive model of evaluation and assessment characterised by a high level of trust in schools and school professionals. There are no full-cohort national tests and teachers are given prime responsibility to assess their students’ learning.
Teachers also have a good degree of ownership of their own appraisal and are involved in school self-review. In recent years, school self-review has become the centre piece of school evaluation while the Education Review Office provides an external validation of the process and focuses on building self-review capacity. The principle of evidence-based policy making is well established and there is a high degree of self-awareness at various levels of the education system. Building on recent reforms and developments already underway, this report suggests a range of policy options to ensure that the overall evaluation and assessment framework is coherent, efficient and responsive to the needs of New Zealand’s education system.
Further develop and embed the National Standards within New Zealand’s evaluation and assessment system
National Standards were introduced in primary education in 2010 to provide clear expectations for student learning in mathematics, reading and writing and help teachers make and report overall teacher judgements (OTJs) based on a range of assessment evidence. In a context where there is a general consensus against national testing in primary education, the introduction of Standards is seen as an alternative way to make information about student learning more consistent and comparable. However, further developments are necessary to embed the Standards within the primary school system.
These include (1) Ongoing investment in teacher professional development to build teachers’ capacity to assess students in relation to the National Standards; (2) Stronger support for systematic moderation processes to ensure that OTJs are reliable and nationally consistent; (3) Better articulation between the National Standards, the national curriculum and existing assessment tools; (4) Clearer statements regarding the kind of information that standards-based reporting can and cannot provide and the uses of reporting information that are considered appropriate; and (5) Further work to ensure that the Standards’ focus on literacy and numeracy does not marginalise other learning areas where measurement of performance and progress is more challenging.
Consolidate teaching standards and strengthen teacher appraisal processes
A framework of teaching standards is essential as a reference point for teacher appraisal. The current co-existence of two sets of teaching standards and the lack of clarity about their respective use call for their consolidation into a single set of standards providing a clear shared understanding of what counts as accomplished teaching. The consolidated standards should describe competencies for different career steps of teachers and should allow for teacher registration to be conceived as career-progression appraisal. Such appraisal is summative in nature and should include an element of externality such as an accredited external evaluator, be based on classroom observation and a range of information demonstrating teacher effectiveness, and take into consideration the teacher’s own views.
At the same time, regular teacher appraisal as part of performance management processes should be conceived as a largely school-based and formative process (developmental appraisal). To ensure that all teachers benefit from systematic developmental appraisal, it is important to build the capacity of school leaders or expert teachers to undertake specific appraisal functions within the school and to ensure that the process is validated externally, for example as part of Education Review Office (ERO) reviews.
Ensure that school planning and reporting is used effectively for evaluation and improvement
While schools are required to have both annual planning and reporting and self-review processes, the school annual reports do not appear to be well integrated into either school self-review or ERO’s external review processes. Also, while annual reports are sent to the Ministry of Education for accountability purposes, the potential to use them for system monitoring and evaluation is not exploited. Given a significant level of dissatisfaction with annual reporting by schools, the nature and use of these reports should be revisited. There is a need to closely examine the relative costs and benefits of different forms of reporting and the form that teachers and school leaders would find most productive. If self-review and ERO reviews are both formative, the annual review should reflect ways in which they have contributed to professional development and school improvement. To optimise the use of annual reports for school improvement, they could be used by the Regional Offices of the Ministry of Education to provide constructive feedback and engage with schools and Boards of Trustees to support school improvement work (see below).
Strengthen school collaboration and regionally-based support structures to spread and share effective practice
In the context of self-management, individual schools can be relatively isolated and have limited opportunities for collegial networking and peer learning. There are a range of policy options to strengthen the connectedness of schools and help spread and share effective evaluation and assessment practice. These include (1) Providing cluster funding for groups of schools to pool evaluative information and engage in collaborative analysis and interpretation of data; (2) Supporting the collaboration of schools with an external facilitator or “critical friend” such as a professional development provider; (3) Relying as much as possible on practitioners in the role of peer evaluators or participating in ERO review teams; and (4) Building further on recent developments to strengthen the Regional Offices of the Ministry of Education and enhancing regionally based school support structures.
Reinforce professional learning opportunities for teachers, school leaders and trustees
While there has been strong focus on building evaluation and assessment competencies at the school level, further investment in professional development is necessary to ensure that practices are consistently effective across New Zealand. Teachers need to develop not only the capacity to use, interpret and follow up on results obtained from nationally provided assessment tools, but also to develop their own valid and reliable assessment tools, adapt assessment to diverse learner profiles and communicate and report assessment results effectively. Alongside general training in assessment literacy, teachers and school leaders also need to further develop skills to collect school-wide assessment data; disaggregate data for relevant sub-groups; and interpret and translate assessment information into improvement strategies. Central agencies could consider developing a unique set of teacher competencies in assessment to set clear targets for initial teacher education and continuing professional learning. Given the key role of school leaders in New Zealand’s devolved education system, there is also a need to firmly embed a focus on effective evaluation and assessment in the competency description, training, performance appraisal and support materials for school leaders. To ensure Boards of Trustees fully play their role in school evaluation and principal appraisal, it is also important to set apart resources to develop and sustain the evaluation capacities of trustees.
Ensure that evaluation and assessment respond to diverse learner needs
New Zealand’s approach to evaluation and assessment aims to respond to diverse learner needs and gives particular attention to groups for which there is evidence of system under-performance such as Māori and Pasifika. However, there is room to optimise assessment practice for different student groups, improve school processes to identify and respond to groups at risk of underperformance and strengthen the national information system regarding diverse groups of students. In addition to increasing the availability of assessment instruments in Māori, it is important to train teachers to be sensitive to cultural and linguistic aspects of learning and assessment. When developing consolidated teaching standards and strengthening teacher appraisal processes (see above), it is essential to keep a strong focus on the effectiveness of teachers in improving student learning outcomes for all students, particularly for Māori and Pasifika. School leadership training and capacity building for school self-review should include a strong focus on monitoring the participation and achievement of priority groups such as Māori, Pasifika, English language learners and students with special educational needs. For education system monitoring, it is important to obtain better data on Māori learning outcomes in primary education through the implementation of a revised version of the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) in Māori-medium settings. The Ministry should also consider gathering more information on students’ linguistic profiles.
Further strengthen consistency between different elements of evaluation and assessment
While the national evaluation and assessment agenda is well developed and solidly based on research evidence, a number of elements could be better integrated and aligned to form a coherent framework. As outlined above, this includes linkages between the National Standards, the national curriculum and student assessment, the coherence between two different sets of teaching standards, and the articulation of annual school reporting with school evaluation and education system monitoring. To optimise complementarity and prevent inconsistencies of evaluation practices at different levels of the system, the New Zealand authorities should consider developing an overall mapping or framework for the entire evaluation and assessment system. This should involve taking stock of existing research syntheses, position papers, standards and indicators and integrating them in a coherent and concise framework. The overarching goal would be to propose a higher level of integration and coherence of the different components of evaluation and assessment. The outcome of such a mapping process could be a concise document providing a framework for evaluation and assessment approaches at student, teacher, school and system level. This process should be used as an opportunity to identify missing links, determine priorities and develop a strategic plan for the further development of the framework.