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.
The Current Situation
What do we know about the progress children are currently making towards the goal?
The Literacy Taskforce acknowledged that currently we know only about the achievement of students learning in the medium of English. There has been no systematic collection and analysis of data of children’s progress and achievement for learning in the medium of Māori (or any other language of instruction).
International and local studies confirm that, in general, New Zealand children are successful readers and writers compared with children from countries with similar or better socio-economic conditions. However, the same studies highlight a wide variation in performance in reading tasks of particular groups of New Zealand students
The IEA international survey of reading of nine-year-olds (1990) showed that Māori performed significantly below the international average, and Māori boys performed at a level below that of Māori girls. A further analysis of the data shows significant differences in word recognition and comprehension between children whose home language was English compared to children whose home language was not. Many of these were Pacific Islands children.
The evidence suggests initial disparities that then continue to grow over the first four years of schooling between Māori and Pacific Islands children on the one hand and Pākehā children on the other, as well as disparities between children in low-decile schools and those in other schools. It was noted that there is a high proportion of Māori and Pacific Islands children in low-decile schools.
Analyses of school leaver qualifications data and the International Adult Literacy Survey show lower levels of performance for Māori and Pacific Islands people than for Pākehā, which suggests that later learning has not redressed these problems. This clearly has further implications for generational effects on children’s literacy learning.
Reading Recovery identifies, through its diagnostic survey, about 20 percent of children who, compared with the other children in their classroom, are making relatively limited progress after one year of instruction. However, the performance of that 20 percent in any one classroom could be above, at, or below the national average. The taskforce noted that it appears that this convention of identifying children using the diagnostic survey has led to the widely expressed claim that 20 percent of children are failing in their literacy learning in New Zealand schools.
A third small group of “hard to teach” students is identified by such interventions as Reading Recovery and the Resource Teachers of Reading service.
A summary of the studies referred to above is attached in Appendix C.
The studies suggest that our literacy strategies are more effective for most students than those in many other similar countries. However, the evidence also suggests that our teaching is far less effective for the underachieving groups described in the previous section. The taskforce agreed that there is also sufficient evidence to show that boys are not doing as well as girls in our school system. The taskforce agreed that the challenge is to ensure that our teaching practices are equally effective for all children.
In many classrooms, children who might be expected to make limited progress because they fit the profile of the underachieving groups in fact make excellent progress. But the taskforce was concerned that not enough is known about the particular teaching strategies and approaches in New Zealand that bring about these results, and it recommends that more research be undertaken so that better guidance can be given to teachers.
 These studies were the IEA Reading Literacy Study, 1990; the International Adult Literacy Study, 1997; the NEMP Report 6 Reading and Speaking Assessment, 1996. Initial disparities are reported in School Entry Assessment/Aro matawai Urunga-a-Kura, The First National Picture - July 1997 - May 1998.
 Initial disparities are reported in School Entry Assessment/Aro matawai Urunga-ā-Kura: The First National Picture – July 1997–May 1998.
 This group represents around 1-2% of six-to-seven-year-olds.