Report of the Literacy Taskforce
As a key input into the development of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, in 1999 the Government established the Literacy Taskforce to provide advice on how the goal should be defined, how progress towards it should be measured, and the ways in which literacy learning could best be supported. The taskforce was asked to make specific recommendations to improve teaching and learning for children in their first four years at school, to identify those aspects of current practice that need affirming or reinforcing, and to indicate programmes or practices that need reviewing. This Literacy and Numeracy Strategy is no longer an active strategy.
How Should Progress Towards the Goal be Measured?
Monitoring progress towards the goal has three aspects:
- teachers’ monitoring of individual children’s progress towards the goal;
- schools’ collective monitoring of their pupils’ progress to ensure that their teaching and learning programmes will best enable individual pupils to reach the goal;
- the Government’s monitoring of the system’s progress toward this goal over the period to 2005 and beyond.
Teachers’ monitoring of individual children
The literacy levels of individual children are strongly influenced by the quality of the interaction between the child and the teacher. Good teachers carry out monitoring, analysis, and reflection as an integral part of their teaching.
The taskforce was therefore concerned about the wide range of teacher expertise in monitoring and assessment. If monitoring is to be useful, then it must not only be used by teachers to diagnose and report on children’s strengths and weaknesses but should also inform them about their own teaching practice and interactions with children in both individual and group instruction. Anecdotal evidence indicates that although detailed data is gathered, it may not be analysed or used to improve teaching programmes.
The taskforce believes that monitoring and assessment must be ongoing so that children having difficulties can be identified and helped. Any assessment must be informative to the teacher and parents and it must therefore be carried out on tasks appropriate to children’s capabilities. So that assessment data can inform a new school when children move, the taskforce would like the Ministry of Education to investigate the possibility of having cumulative records travel with a child from school to school.
As with all students, teachers’ monitoring of Māori and Pacific Islands students must also be sensitive to, and affirm, their prior knowledge and experience. The taskforce noted that diagnostic tools and monitoring procedures are being developed for use in Māori-medium classrooms, but that these need more research and development. However, the taskforce noted that there have been no externally referenced assessment tools developed for use in Pacific Islands languages education.
The Literacy Taskforce notes that monitoring and assessment of individual children is an ongoing and integral part of teaching practice and therefore recommends that assessment be an essential component of teacher education.
>The Literacy Taskforce recommends that research be undertaken to support the development of diagnostic tools for use in Māori-medium education.
Schools’ collective monitoring of their pupils’ progress
Currently, there is no common system throughout New Zealand for assessing reading and writing. In reading, such common tools as running records are used and analysed by teachers in a variety of ways.
Externally referenced assessment tools enable schools to see where their children are in relation to other children of the same age. The taskforce considers that it is important that schools use such tools and that they analyse and collate the data they collect so that they are very clear about the progress and achievement of their students and are able to report on this to parents as well as using the information to develop appropriate instructional programmes.
The taskforce supported the Ministry of Education’s proposal to develop exemplars for the achievement objectives related to reading and writing in English in the New Zealand Curriculum so that teachers are clearer about the standards that should be achieved at each level of the curriculum.
The taskforce reiterated that providing a description of the knowledge, understandings, strategies, and attitudes that nine-year-olds should demonstrate when they are reading and writing for success, along with examples of texts that children are reading and of children’s writing, will help clarify expectations of student achievement.
The Literacy Taskforce recommends the development of further externally referenced assessment tools so that they are available to assess progress and achievement in literacy in each of the first four years of instruction.
The Literacy Taskforce recommends that externally referenced assessment tools be developed for use in Māori-medium education.
The government’s monitoring of the system’s progress
Standard procedures and appropriate assessment tools, in both English and Māori, are necessary if progress towards the goal is to be measured.
The Literacy Taskforce would prefer to see the further development of externally referenced tools that would enable light sampling to take place as well as provide information to schools about how their students compare with the national cohort rather than a national testing regime for all students. The taskforce considered the possibility of the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) being used for such monitoring but decided that it does not meet this purpose.
Diagnostic surveys, such as that used to screen children for Reading Recovery (the 6 year net), also provide useful data at a national level.
The Literacy Taskforce recommends that schools be required to use externally referenced assessment tools on an annual basis and that this data be sampled to monitor the system’s progress towards the goal.
 The taskforce noted that the priority for development in Pacific Islands languages is the development of reading materials for children.
 Externally referenced assessment tools currently used by schools include School Entry Assessment/Aro Matawai Urunga-ā-Kura (SEA/AKA), Six Year Diagnostic Survey (6 year net), Burt Word Recognition Test, and Progressive Achievement Tests (PATs).
 The NEMP uses soundly based assessment methods in a sample range of schools, but it is not administered on an annual basis. It reports on actual, not expected, performance. It would therefore need modification for more frequent monitoring of reading, written language, and mathematics and include assessment items that have been agreed to be appropriate indicators of the goal having been met.