The vision for education in New Zealand is a ‘system that learns’, from the level of individual learners in early childhood settings through to primary school (years 1 to 8) and senior secondary schools (years 9 to 13). This learning system includes teachers, ECE settings, kura, schools, parents and whānau, and educational agencies.
The principles of assessment are presented in two levels. The first leveldescribes the overarching intentions and central premises of an educationsystem that learns. The second level provides indicators of good or effective assessmentthat apply at ECE settings, kura and schools. The pillars of sound educationalassessment identify the essential elements of validity, reliability andfairness in all assessment practices. New Zealand’s national curricula (TeWhāriki, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa,and TheNew ZealandCurriculum) contain statements of and guide assessment policy andpractices in these contexts. The principles for each curriculum are listed inthe appendix.
Advances in educational assessment globally continue to influence thinkingabout assessment for and of meaningful outcomes for today’s learners, as doconsiderations of how technology can be used for assessment to inform teachingand learning. These remain challenges internationally but are strongly signalledin future directions for assessment in New Zealand and around the world.
An educationsystem that learns
A learning system is one that improves over time, in which all participants are active learners who work together to achieve improved wellbeing and educational outcomes for all. A learning system focuses on using high quality assessment information to support and continuously improve the progress and achievement of each learner across the system while also strengthening and improving the system itself. It requires trust across the system to share assessment information. Figure 1 shows the multi-layered levels of a learning system that uses assessment information and the purposes for which it is used, with the ultimate goal of strengthening the learning of individual learners, teachers, schools and educational agencies.
The system uses assessment information that builds from the bottom up. Assessment information about the progress and achievement of individual learners allows teachers to consider each learner’s current and future learning. Such rich assessment information may be summarised when reporting to parents and whānau, and aggregated when reporting to Boards of Trustees, Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako and educational agencies.
Central premises of assessment in a learning system
There are four central premises of assessment in a learning system.
- Assessmentinformation is used for improvement
A learning system usesassessment information for formative purposes – to improve the teaching andlearning of individual learners. This involves teachers and learners having anunderstanding of educational goals and indicators of development and learning,determining how learners are progressing towards those goals, and identifyingwhat adjustments need to be made to further their progress toward achievingthose goals. Any assessment information may be used for formative purposes .Teachers’knowledge of each learner is vital to ensure assessment is fit for purpose(valid), dependable (reliable) and appropriate (fair). Furthermore, a learningsystem relies on an absolute belief that every learner can improve, and onteachers, learners and partners (such as parents and whānau and Communities ofLearning | Kāhui Ako) sharing and valuing each other’s processes of makingsense of assessment information.
Shared beliefs about andvaluing of assessment information can be extended to others in the learningsystem. For example, policymakers mightmake use of information provided by the National Monitoring Study of StudentAchievement (NMSSA) — a national-level assessment of what random samples ofyear 4 and year 8 students in New Zealand English-medium schools know and cando — to highlight how the education sector may improve learners’ achievementthrough, for example, adjustments to the national curricula or professional learningsupport for teachers.
This does not mean that there is no role for summative assessment.Teachers bring together information gathered from a range of informal andformal sources about learners’ progress to make summative judgments aboutlearners’ achievement of educational outcomes at certain points in time (suchas, when they are reporting to parents and whānau or Boards
of Trustees, and for senior secondary schoolqualifications). Such summative assessments can also be used formatively toprovide insight into aspects of the curriculum that need improved provision, aswell as offering senior secondary school learners guidance about possible futureeducation, training and employment trajectories.
- Assessment isa process
Assessment in a learningsystem is best viewed as a process and not just as an event. Viewing assessmentas a process to support and improve the progress and achievement of learnershas led to the use of several terms: assessment forlearning, assessment as learning andassessment is learning. Theseterms all reflect the immediate and intimate relationship between teaching, learningand assessment.
It is also appropriate to view assessment as an event for certain purposes, such as when reporting to parents and whānau and Boards of Trustees, or for providing qualifications for senior secondary students, as assessment of learning summarises learners’ progress and achievement at a certain point in time.
Assessment may be informal(from conversations and observations) or it may be formal (a planned assessmentactivity). Rich data gathered by teachers about individual learners isappropriate for formative purposes, but will generally be aggregated andstripped of detail when used for summative purposes.
- Quality assessmentinformation is used at all levels of the system
Quality assessmentinformation should be used within and among all layers of the learning systemto promote improvement in learning and raise learner achievement. The flow ofassessment information needs to be coherent and have integrity. Sound formativeuse of assessment across the system should be able to demonstrate improvementin achieving equitable outcomes for learners.
The use of qualityassessment information should happen at the group or classroom level by employingevidence of individual learners’ progress and achievement to improve teachingand learning, and also for reporting to parents and whānau. It should happen atthe ECE, kura and school level through professional dialogue, reviews, and thedevelopment of local policies and practices. It should happen at the systemlevel through system monitoring and evaluating, reviewing and developingsystem-wide policies and practices.
It requires a high trust andcollegial environment where assessment information is freely shared, inquiredinto and used effectively to decide what needs to be done next and how best todo it, and to adapt (by modifying policy and planning, and revising goals,targets and success indicators). It should be implemented in a way that willtransform practice to achieve improvement in learners’ educational outcomes.
- Support isprovided by national assessment tools and resources
Within a learning system, judgmentsabout learners’ development and learning are made in relation to nationallyco-constructed and developed assessment tools and resources. Teachers may use thosethat best support their judgments of learners’ progress and achievement. Suchtools and resources also provide nationally referenced information orexpectations that are used consistently across the multiple layers of theeducation sector. They include learning stories in ECE, theAssessment Resource Banks (New Zealand Council for Educational Research), theProgressive Achievement Tests (NZCER), e-AsTTle, Learning ProgressionFrameworks (LPFs) for understanding progress, the Progress and Consistency Tool(PACT) for tracking progress through the schooling sector, and exemplars of learners’progress and achievement.
Indicators of goodassessment
These central premises ofassessment in a learning system lead us to identify a set of indicators of goodassessment practice that further enhance and support the improvement ofteaching and learning for individual learners.
- Assess what is valued
It is important that weassess what we value rather than narrow the focus to valuing what we (can) assess.New Zealand’s national curricula (Te Whāriki, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa,andtheNew Zealand Curriculum) set clear expectations for learning,while providing flexibility for local curriculum and for teaching and learningto be designed and delivered in ways that meet the needs of thelearners.Therefore, assessment should be underpinned by and used in theservice of national curricula while reflecting local priorities.
- Enable learners to beactive participants in assessment
Placing learners at thecentre of all aspects of assessment processes and practices supports assessmentfor learning, the use of timely feedback to enhance teaching and learning, andprofessional learning designed to assist teachers enhance their own and students’assessment capabilities. Learners who have well-developed assessmentcapabilities are able and motivated to participate in assessments, and to interpretand use information from good assessment in ways that affirm or further theirlearning. Learners are involved in identifying their learning goals,understanding their progress towards meeting them and knowing what they need todo next to achieve them. This develops learners’ abilities to recogniseimportant moments of personal learning and their self- and peerassessment skills. It also personalises their learning.
- Develop assessmentcapability
Assessment-capable learnersunderstand the assessment process and actively seek to learn from assessmentactivities so that they can respond to them and use them to support furtherlearning. Assessment-capable teachers are able and motivated to access,interpret and use information from quality assessments in ways that affirm orfurther learning.
Learners who are able toactively participate in assessing their own learning and make ‘what next?’decisions are assessment capable. They have agency and ownership of their ownlearning. In these situations, learners canparticipate in assessment with ease and are not anxious about theassessment process.
- Gather a broad range ofassessment information
Teachers require a broadrange of assessment information to determine the progress and achievement oflearners across the curriculum and to make informed decisions about how theyadjust their teaching for best impact. Good assessment entails using a range ofinformation from multiple sources in order to learn, respond appropriately andimprove learning. This may include informal assessments (gathered throughobservations, and conversations between the teacher and learner) and formalassessments (the planned use of assessments activities, tools and resources). Multiplesources of assessment information contribute to valid and reliable teacherjudgments if they are used appropriately and the information produced is interpretedcompetently.
- Build the mana andconnectedness of all involved in the assessment process
Qualityinteractions and relationships are fundamental to enabling better learning. Forlearning conversations with learners and their families and whānau to bebeneficial, interactions need to be learning-focused and learner-centred, and theymust respect and support each learner’s identity, language and culture inauthentic learning situations. It is important to use assessment processes andevents that respect and support learners of diverse backgrounds, experiencesand needs. This builds learner confidence and self-assurance in the learning and assessment processes.What is more, using assessment processes that support a reciprocal conversationwith parents and whānau values the role they play in their child’s learning. Forprofessional dialogue between teachers to be productive, conversations need tobe responsive, respectful, and reciprocal exchanges within an environment thatvalues and supports collegial, collaborative and co-operative interactionswhere their input is valued.
- Pay attention to learnerwellbeing
Positive learning experiences in ECE, kura and school learningenvironments are critically important to enable learners to achieve successful,relevant educational outcomes in their social development and achievement. Learners’wellbeing can be enhanced by having a deeper interest in their sense ofbelonging and their identity, language and culture. It is also important for learnersto develop good emotional and social skills and to feel supported in theirlearning environment.
- Consider the potentialconsequences of assessment
Assessment in ECE settings, kura and schools is predominately formativeand forms a normal part of the teaching and learning interactions betweenteachers and learners. In this sense it is viewed as ‘low-stakes’. That is, the assessment does not distort whatis valued in the national curricula by reducing the focus of what is taught andassessed. It is a natural part of the close connection between teaching,learning and assessment to enhance learner progress and achievement.
This contrasts with ‘high stakes’ assessments which may be used for formalreporting purposes or assessments for qualifications at the end of secondaryschool (such as NCEA or Cambridge examinations) that lead to decision-makingabout learners’ futures. When incorrectly implemented or disproportionatelyemphasised, such assessments may impact adversely on what is valued and therefore taught, as well as on thetypes of teaching and learning experiences that learners receive.
Absolum, M., Flockton, L.,Hattie, J., Hipkins, R. & Reid, N. (2007).Assessment in New Zealand: Developing students’ assessmentcapabilities. Retrieved from http://assessment.tki.org.nz/Research-andreadings
Hipkins, R. & Cameron,M. (2018) Trends in assessment: Anoverview of themes in the literature.Retrieved from https://www.nzcer.org.nz ›system › files › Trends in assessment report
Ministerial Advisory Group(2019) He Taonga Te Tamaiti / Every Child a Taonga:Strategic Plan for early learning 2019–29. Retrievedfrom https://conversation.education.govt.nz/assets/ELSP/Early-Learning-Strategic-10-Year-Plan.pdf
Ministerial Advisory Group(2019). Strengthening curriculum, progress,and achievement in a system that learns / E whakakaha ana i te marautanga, tekohe, me te ekenga taumata i te rangapū e ako ana. Retrieved fromhttps://conversation.education.govt.nz/conversations/curriculum-progress-and-achievement/
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Appendix: National Curricula characteristics and principles ofassessment
Te Whāriki: Four principles for assessmentin early childhood
- Enhance the mana of thechild, and the child’s sense of him or herself as a capable person andcompetent learner (Empowerment / Mana Atuaprinciple).
- Take account of thewhole child and reflect the holistic way in which children learn, based on thecontext of children’s activities and relationships (Holistic development / Kotahitanga principle).
- Include families and whānau (Familyand Community / Whānau Tangata principle).
- Recognise thepeople, places and things that support children’s learning (Relationships/ Ngā Hohonga principle).
NewZealand Curriculum: Characteristicsof effective assessment
- benefits students
- involves students
- supports teaching and learning goals
- is planned and communicated
- is suited to the purpose
- informs planning at a school-wide level.
Te Marautanga o Aotearoa: Four principles of aromatawai/assessment
- Mana Mokopuna– education that is mokopuna [child]-centred.
- Rangatiratanga– education that is unique to the individual.
- Toitū te Mana– education that affirms whānau, hapū, iwi.
- Whanaungatanga– education that values whanaungatanga.
By Alison Gilmore
PREPARED FOR THE EDUCATION HUB BY
Associate Professor Alison Gilmore has had an extensive national and international career in educational assessment and evaluation. Alison has worked at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research in Wellington and the University of Canterbury, before moving to Otago to work on the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) at Otago University. During her career Alison has travelled extensively within New Zealand and overseas to participate in educational assessment activities.