“We do things differently here”: evaluation and assessment in New Zealand schools

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

OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: New Zealand:
For more on OECD Reviews on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes: www.oecd.org/edu/evaluationpolicy

Related blog posts:

 The report was authored by Deborah Nusche, Dany Laveault, John MacBeath and Paulo Santiago

Photo credit: New Zealand Ministry of Education 
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Increasing higher education access: one goal, many approaches

by J.D. LaRock
Senior Analyst, Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education

Few would dispute that having a higher education is more important than ever to help people build positive economic futures and strengthen the knowledge economies of countries. Yet as the second issue of the OECD’s new brief series Education Indicators in Focus explains, OECD countries have adopted dramatically different strategies for increasing higher education access – both in terms of how higher education is financed, and in the level of financial support they provide to individuals seeking a degree.

For example, in countries with more progressive tax structures, such as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, students pay low or no tuition fees and have access to generous public subsidies for higher education. Tuition fees are much higher in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United States, but students in these countries also have access to significant financial support.

Before recent reforms in Japan and in Korea, students paid comparatively high tuition fees, but had relatively low access to public subsidies. Meanwhile, in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain and Mexico, students pay little or nothing for higher education, but have limited access to financial aid.

At a time when most OECD countries are experiencing surges in higher education enrolments – but also face significant budget constraints – which model stands a better chance of promoting higher education access and positive outcomes for students in the most equitable way? As it turns out, there’s something to be learned from several of them.

As detailed in the OECD’s thematic review of higher education, charging a moderate level of tuition fees – while simultaneously giving students opportunities to benefit from comprehensive financial aid systems – is an effective way for countries to increase access to higher education, stretch limited public funds, and promote equity by acknowledging the significant private returns that students receive from higher education.

In particular, access to robust financial aid seems to be the key.  For example, countries with especially well-developed student support systems – like Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – all have above-average university entry rates, even though they also have comparatively high tuition fees.

At the same time, the type of financial aid countries offer is also critical. The OECD’s review suggests that financial aid systems that couple means-tested grants and loans that have income-contingent repayments not only promote access and equity at the front end of higher education, but also lead to better outcomes for students at the back end. Australia and New Zealand have used this approach to mitigate the impact of high tuition fees, encourage disadvantaged students to enter higher education, and reduce the risks of high student loan indebtedness. Other OECD countries that use this strategy include Chile, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Increasingly, countries are adjusting their higher education financing and support systems in other ways as well. For example, more countries have raised tuition fees for international students in recent years, in part to shore up the finances of their higher education systems. At least 14 OECD member and partner countries differentiate tuition fees among fields of study to account for the higher cost of operating some academic programmes.  Some countries like Australia have even attempted to link higher education charges to labour-market opportunities by lowering tuition fees for fields with skills shortages.

In an era of booming enrolments and tightening belts, it won’t be surprising if still more changes are on the horizon.

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators  www.oecd.org/edu/eag2011
On the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, visit:
INES Programme overview brochure

Related blog post:
Higher education: an insurance policy against global downturns

Chart excludes OECD countries for which specific data on public subsidies is not available.
Source: Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, Indicator B5 (www.oecd.org/edu/eag2011).
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Cooking up success: why Finns learn better

by Hannah von Ahlefeld
Analyst, OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments

Has well-known Finnish cartoonist B. Virtanen hit on the recipe for success in Finland’s exemplary education system? The OECD / CELE conference in Finland this week will reveal all.

Consistently, Finnish students have earned top marks from the OECD’s landmark PISA study, which tests the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in more than 70 countries. Finland has won recognition as an international reference point for best practice in educational improvement, creating a wave of so-called PISA tourism. 

While some success factors, or ingredients, are relatively simple to identify and measure – such as a well-paid, well-trained and highly valued teaching force, a homogenous society, and a focus on equity and inclusion – others are not so simple to define. And the way in which those ingredients are mixed together is all important.

There is intense interest today in the nature of learning and creating the environments in which it can flourish. Although we lack conclusive empirical evidence, ongoing OECD studies have made important contributions towards highlighting the role of innovation in fostering effective learning environments. Experience from Australia, the UK and Portugal, as well as Finland has given us ideas to discuss and learn from.

But too many of today’s schools still operate with traditional approaches that do not encourage deep collaborative learning, innovation or provide the capacity for lifelong learning. So, is a major paradigm shift required in order for learning environments to catch up with 21st century needs and demands? How can communities initiate major endeavors of vision and innovation? 

In Finland from 22-24 February 2012, more than 170 people will have the great fortune to observe, experiment, and learn first-hand some of the many approaches to effective learning environments used in Finnish schools at an OECD conference entitled “A Recipe for Success: Transforming Learning Environments through Dynamic Local Partnerships”. 

The conference will bring together a range of local, regional and international players from universities, local businesses and school communities to discuss the catalysts and drivers for transforming today’s learning environments into dynamic learning communities of the future. The conference settings – a comprehensive school in Turku, and the well-reputed Department of Teacher Training at the University of Turku, Rauma; speakers including OECD Director for Education, Barbara Ischinger; and experiential workshops, are sure to stimulate. 

The conference commences on the evening of 22 February. To register, contact  Hannah.vonAhlefeld@oecd.org or go to the web site http://congress.utu.fi/CELE2012.

A Recipe for Success: Transforming Learning Environments through Dynamic Local Partnerships”, Turku, Finland, 22-24 February 2012
Website for the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments
Follow us on twitter @ OECD_Edu  #CELEFinland

Related blog posts:
Inspiring education through great design

Photo credit: B.Vartanen
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The Future of the Teaching Profession

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)

Teachers are the focus of media attention in many countries these days. Governments want to see increases in the achievement levels of their students, so naturally the discussion turns to the quality of the teaching and learning in schools and with that, the effectiveness of teachers.

What does all of this focused attention–and the accompanying reforms to teacher qualifications, evaluations, and often their pay structure–mean for today’s teachers and for the future of the teaching profession? Last Thursday and Friday, I attended a conference at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom to discuss those questions and others. The conference was organised by Leadership for Learning in the Faculty of Education at Cambridge, together with Education International (the global federation of teacher organisations, the OECD, and the Open Society Foundations. It included representatives from government, academia, unions and schools from 28 countries.

The seminar was divided into three themes: 
  • Opportunities and threats to the teaching profession, which included coming up with a shared definition of teaching as a profession;
  • Getting a measure of teaching, which included a discussion of what international policy says about teacher evaluation; 
  • And looking toward a professional future for teachers.
There were few presentations, and much guided discussion at tables and with the entire group. I was fortunate enough to be one of the presenters, on the subject of getting a measure of teaching. I spoke about what the teachers surveyed in TALIS 2008 said about the evaluation and feedback they received. 

What struck me most about this seminar was not the quality of the discussions, the depth of the presentations or the intellectual horsepower of the attendees (although these were all very impressive). It was that the attendees were comprised of four groups – school leaders, union leaders, government policymakers and academics – who are often portrayed as being at odds with one another. Yet this group of people were part of a “consensus narrative” as one speaker said, all working toward the same objectives for the same reason: supporting our teachers for the betterment of learning.

For more on the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey: www.oecd.org/edu/talis
Creating Effective Teaching and Learning Environments: First results from TALIS 
Follow TALIS and Kristen Weatherby @Kristen_Talis

Photo credit: ©Royalty-free/ Hemera/Thinkstock
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All that money can’t buy

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education 
We can now add something else to the growing list of things money alone can’t buy: love, happiness–and strong performance in PISA. Results from PISA 2009 show that there is a threshold beyond which a country’s wealth is unrelated to its overall score in PISA.

Among moderately wealthy economies whose per capita GDP is up to around USD 20 000 (Estonia, Hungary, the Slovak Republic and the partner country Croatia, for example), the greater the country’s wealth, the higher its mean score on the
PISA reading test. But PISA results indicate that above this threshold of USD 20 000 in per capita GDP, national wealth is no longer a good predictor of a country’s mean performance in PISA. And the amount these high-income countries devote to education also appears to have little relation to their overall performance in PISA. PISA looked at cumulative expenditure on education–the total dollar amount spent on educating a student from the age of 6 to the age of 15–and found that, after a threshold of about USD 35 000 per student, expenditure is unrelated to performance. For example, countries that spend more than USD 100 000 per student from the age of 6 to 15, such as Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and the United States, show similar levels of performance as countries that spend less than half that amount per student, such as Estonia, Hungary and Poland. Meanwhile, New Zealand, a top performer in PISA, spends a lower-than-average amount per student from the age of 6 to 15.

So what is it that makes a country a strong performer in PISA? Its decisions on how it spends the money that it does invest in education. PISA results show that the strongest performers among high-income countries and economies tend to invest more in teachers. For example, lower secondary teachers in Korea and the partner economy of Hong Kong-China, two high-performing systems in the PISA reading tests, earn more than twice the per capita GDP in their respective countries. The countries that perform well in PISA tend to attract the best students into the teaching profession by offering them higher salaries and greater professional status. They also tend to prioritise investment in teachers over smaller classes.

Successful PISA countries also invest something else in their education systems: high expectations for all of their students. Schools and teachers in these systems do not allow struggling students to fail; they do not make them repeat a grade, they do not transfer them to other schools, nor do they group students into different classes based on ability. Regardless of a country’s or economy’s wealth, school systems that commit themselves, both in resources and in policies, to ensuring that all students succeed perform better in PISA than systems that tend to separate out poor performers or students with behavioural problems or special needs.

So when it comes to money and education, the question isn’t how much? but rather for what?

For more information:
on PISA: www.pisa.oecd.org
PISA in Focus N°13: Does money buy strong performance in PISA?
Full set of PISA in Focus: www.oecd.org/pisa/infocus
Video Series: Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education

Video: Singapore: Building a strong and effective teaching force
From the series of videos on Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education, produced jointly by the OECD and the Pearson Foundation
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Tackling inequity

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

What struck me most about the international roundtable on early childhood education and care that I attended late last month in Oslo was the simple fact that this topic attracted such intense interest. It probably wouldn’t have happened a decade ago. The fact that it’s happening now, even as most of the countries represented at the meeting are in the midst of an economic crisis, is an encouraging sign. It shows that more governments understand that equity of opportunity has to begin in the first years of life, in the earliest years of a child’s education, in order to give everyone a fair chance to succeed later on.

As recent headlines repeatedly tell us, and as is evident just looking around us, equity has become something of an endangered ideal. And this is, unfortunately, just as true in education as in many other areas of life. OECD research finds that one in five students does not complete secondary school; yet our research also shows that those 15-year-olds, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds, who had attended pre-primary education perform better on PISA than those who did not. In other words, give all children a good start and you give them the tools and the confidence to meet the challenges that arise later on in their lives.

It is easy to argue, particularly when governments are forced to make tough economic choices, that this kind of inclusiveness in education is too expensive to introduce and maintain, that the quality of the education provided would, inevitably, suffer. But some countries–Poland is one notable example–have already proven that inclusiveness and quality in education are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, I would argue that inclusiveness improves quality for all concerned, as it is to the advantage of society as a whole when people from different backgrounds learn with and from each other.

That is precisely the premise of Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, which is published today. In essence, countries in the industrialised world cannot afford not to invest in quality early childhood, primary and secondary education for all: the cost to society later on–in high rates of unemployment, in poor health, in increasing criminal activity–would be far greater.

Many governments of OECD countries are now talking of structural reform to tackle complex problems cost-effectively; inequity–in education and in general–should be at the top of the agenda. In fact, education is no longer, if it ever was, an isolated issue. Education reform requires an all-government approach, involving policies related to such disparate domains as housing and taxation. It also requires commitment, both financial and philosophical. All governments say they want to tackle the problem of growing inequity that, left unchecked, could threaten the stability of our societies. Investing in quality education for all is one of the best ways of doing so.

More information about OECD work on equity in education: www.oecd.org/edu/equity
Equity and Quality in Education - Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Photo credit: © Brian Kennedy/Flickr/Getty Images
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