by Deborah Nusche
Policy Analyst, Early Childhood and Schools Division, Directorate for Education
New Zealand’s consistent high performance in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has sparked international curiosity about the ingredients of its success.
New Zealand’s education system is unique in many ways. It has probably gone furthest among OECD countries in allowing schools to run themselves. In turn, it’s not surprising that evaluation and assessment is very much in the hands of schools and their Boards, and the main policy focus has been to build their capacity to do this. Notably, student assessment relies strongly on the professionalism of teachers to assess and report on student learning. A new OECD report on evaluation and assessment in New Zealand schools provides in-depth information about the country’s unique approach to evaluating student, school and system progress.
What struck the review team most about New Zealand’s approach was the great amount of trust in the ability of students, teachers and schools to evaluate their own performance and engage in self-improvement. While international developments are closely followed, the global trend towards high-stakes accountability is not seen as a good option for New Zealand. Especially in primary education, there is a general consensus against national testing and the use of test results for school rankings.
To gather information on how the education system is doing overall, New Zealand relies on sample-based surveys that do not carry high stakes for individual students, teachers or schools. Instead of going further down the road of national assessments, New Zealand is investing in teacher capacity and guidance materials to help teachers make and report professional judgments about the learning of each student. The national agencies provide clear performance expectations and a set of nationally validated assessment tools to guide assessment practice. Teacher professionalism is also supported by well-established approaches to teacher appraisal and school self review. Both promote evidence-based inquiry and the use of assessment results by schools for accountability and improvement.
The New Zealand model has successfully avoided some of the potential negative effects of high-stakes testing such as curriculum narrowing, teaching to the test and assessment anxiety. It has helped communicate the message that assessment is an integral part of everyday teaching and learning rather than a one-off event at the end of the school year. Effective assessment is described by the Ministry of Education as a circle of inquiry, decision-making and transformation – in short, “a process of learning, for learning”.
While New Zealand has a lot to be proud of, the OECD report also identifies a range of challenges and provides recommendations for improvement. Policy priorities are to:
- Further develop and embed the National Standards within the evaluation and assessment framework
- Consolidate teaching standards and strengthen teacher appraisal
- Strengthen school collaboration and regionally-based support for schools
- Reinforce professional learning opportunities for teachers, school leaders and trustees
- Ensure that evaluation and assessment respond to diverse learner needs
- Enhance consistency of the overall evaluation and assessment framework
For more on OECD Reviews on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes: www.oecd.org/edu/evaluationpolicy
Photo credit: New Zealand Ministry of Education