The issue of assessment

Activity 3, Week 27, NZ Mind Lab, PRACTICE

Reading through the report from the Education Review Office; Evaluation at a Glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools (2012) rang a lot of alarm bells for me, but not bells that haven’t been rung before in my professional experience. In my current position as Resource Teacher of Literacy, I work solely with priority learners, so anything that affects them affects me.

I am particularly drawn to the third key issue in this report, that of assessment data and how it is understood by teachers to inform their practice and next steps. ERO (2012) makes the fairly simple statement that every teacher, at all levels, should have a clear understanding of what progress is expected of students across three points:

  • What progress students SHOULD make
  • What progress students HAVE made &
  • What progress students NEED to make

Sounds pretty obvious right? A sound knowledge of our curriculum and the development expected of students is surely all that is needed for this to happen. However, there is also the IMPACT that the teaching of curriculum has had on students’ learning. That for me is a big point. What are we doing that is making a difference to our students? And if it is not making a difference, what can we do differently? Many teachers are still continuing along with things that have worked for other students, without stopping to truly analyse whether or not this is the best thing for the student/s in front of them. ERO calls this critical reflection (2012).

If you don’t know that it is effective, why do you keep on doing it??? 

I draw your attention to this video, on evidence-based teaching to further hit home that point…


Let’s not lay everything down at the teachers’ door, however. I completely understand that overwhelming feeling of too much to do all at once for too many deserving students. This kind of analysis of our own teaching needs to be supported and encouraged. ERO also found that school leaders weren’t often looking at the gaps teachers had in their practice knowledge and putting professional development opportunities into play to support the closing of those gaps (2012).

Jesson, Mcnaughton & Wilson (2015) implemented a research project in some Auckland schools that did just that in relation to the use of digital technologies. The traits of effective teaching were observed in classrooms that promoted high-acceleration of learning, and became the “foci for the redesign of pedagogy and practice” (Jesson et al, 2015) in all classrooms in the study, with many positive results. It is my belief that this should be happening across the country, in all schools.

It is not just the use of assessment evidence to inform teaching practice that is important in my opinion, it is also the types of assessment information being used for students. Here I draw your attention to Flockton’s pyramid…(so important to me, it is laminated and put on the wall of my office).


How many teachers and school leaders look at their students as a Stanine on a PAT test? Does that accurately inform us as to what a student is doing and what they are capable of? I would argue no. Have you analysed what they are doing in reality? What are the blocks to them getting where they should be?

Some of our priority learners may never get out of Level One or Two of the curriculum, or at least not for a long while. How do we correctly assess their progress if we are simply looking at progress towards national standards? There is a lot of progress to be made even in one curriculum level. However, many traditional standardised tests do not show that progress. This can be disheartening and damaging to students’ self-image and also to a teacher’s motivation. ERO talks about leaders guiding teachers towards effective assessment practices (2012).

I think more school leaders should have Flockton’s pyramid on their wall! 

An example of assessment type not correlating to a students’ backgrounds and prior experience prompted me to this tweet…


I was heartened by the fact that these key issues have been highlighted by ERO, however, I want to see evidence of more being done to support them being addressed throughout NZ schools.



Education Review Office. (2012). Evaluation at a Glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools. Retrieved 18 May 2016, from…

Evidence Based Teachers Toolkit, (2011). The case for evidence based teaching. Retrieved from 

Jesson, R., McNaughton, S., & Wilson, A. (2015). Raising literacy levels using digital learning: a design-based approach in New Zealand. Curriculum Journal, 26(2), 198-223.

NZEI Te Riu Roa and Flockton, L. (2009). The Healthy Practice Pyramid. Retrieved from



The issue of assessment

8 thoughts on “The issue of assessment

  1. Megan Nelson-Latu says:

    So much of this rings true. We recently had ERO come to visit and I felt so frustrated that they were only interested in numbers on a page as opposed to the ‘whole’ student. There is so much progress that can be made within a curriculum level, or for an individual child and getting others to see or recognise this is so hard. I teach children who will never meet the aspirational level of National Standards, yet every bit of progress they make is an achievement. I love the pyramid -might introduce it to my department at our next meeting. Very timely, following on from ERO and the reminder that actually, every child is an individual which is a point I tried to get through to them. Our students are not numbers on a page, or stanine level progressions, they are not a curriculum level. They are individuals, they are special and each and every one of them needs to be given the opportunity to develop and make progress, no matter how big or how small.


    1. Very true – how do we continue to have high aspirations for our students and ensure that they are progressing and succeeding, while not simply using test scores as our only way of assessing them? Have you looked at the PACT tool? I was flicking through it and was pleased to see more evidence from Running Records than I was expecting, but would need to go more in depth to see what it’s really like.


  2. Celia King says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and resources. I agree it’s an issue – how do we assess learners who will never make it out of level one? I liked the Healthy Practice Pyramid cause we can learn so much by interacting, observing, discussing and most importantly – listening. All students have abilities and intelligence and just because these abilities and intelligence don’t fit into standardised tests, doesn’t mean that they are less acceptable. Sometimes these students astound me with their knowledge and insights – it is humbling. Let’s honour them for WHO they are – not where they fit on a continuum or graphed data. Let’s become learners instead of teachers. Let’s start relating to students as people of value. Let’s …..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Celia,
      I always like to give choice for learners to show me how they can do something. Tests are just one way and the purpose for which we use them needs to be carefully looked at. It is too easy for teachers to just work towards better test scores rather than better learners.


  3. Ximena says:

    One difficulty that we face (the elephant in the room) is that we now have a ‘standard’ with which to measure students by. This praxis driven by data has the potential to truly harm children. I have seen it myself when children who try and try and are still the ‘below’ in their reports year after year even though they have made progress. A child with dyslexia who is working fifty times harder to make one-half a sublevel of movement deserves more than a simple ‘below the standard.’ We try to make the words as encouraging as possible but the graph shows or line shows it. Hard to say to kids ‘have a growth mindset’ when our assessment practices don’t show the value of ‘not yet.’

    The flip side of this is not recognising like you mentioned, gaps in professional practice. There’s always room for improvement and considering we keep discovering better ways of doing things it’s important to challenge our ways of doing things and keep improving in meaningful ways. Teacher’s growth mindset is crucial for this!


    1. So disheartening right Ximena? How many parent interviews have we had where we say – but, don’t just look at that line, your child is amazing because…Did we always have these standards though I wonder? I started teaching only just prior to National Standards, so never really knew much beforehand. How can we show the progress and effort these “underachieving” students are making. Is it ethical to have an “effort” standard? It kind of comes down to KCs a lot doesn’t it?


  4. Sarah Pupuke says:

    Great post Belinda. I completely agree with everything you have said. I have a huge issue with the fact that at most schools it is only the progress against National Standards that is reported on, my first school had a great visual they filled up a thermometer from the level a child was at at the beginning of the year to where they were currently at. The National Standard was just shown as a thin black line and wasn’t the main focus. I also agree with your comments about standardized testing, a great example of this is one of my students (who is a very confident reader reading well above the National Standard) getting some of the questions on their 6 year net wrong because when they were shown the upside down text they didny state anything was wrong…they just problem solved and read it upside down!


    1. I certainly think I prefer visual ways of representing progress. Having the words Below and Well Below on a report is some of the most damaging things I’ve ever had to do as a person, let alone a teacher! Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to tell a parent about the whole picture – not just numbers? What are schools showing they value when they send home reports with stanines and standards reports? We should be looking at the whole child as well. Not to say I don’t believe students need to aspire to certain levels, but I think the way it is done needs to be looked at differently. Kia ora Sarah.


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