New Zealand Accountability Model

K-12 Testing

Conceptions of accountability and the tools used in implementing accountability systems vary across the world. Few nations are as fixated as the U.S. on using standardized tests as the primary tool for both monitoring achievement and controlling the curriculum.

The small nation of New Zealand, with about 500,000 students, provides a contrasting approach toward accountability and improvement. New Zealand schools each have their own governing boards that report directly to the national Ministry of Education. The Ministry determines resources, establishes curriculum and has the authority to intervene in and even close down schools. The Education Review Office (ERO) visits, reviews and publicly reports on schools, and may recommend remedial action to the Ministry.

There is national testing of most students in the final years of schooling: According to Professor Terry Crooks of the University of Otago, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority determines the assessment process for students in school years 11 to 13 who seek national certification of their achievement in various subjects. The certifications are widely used in employment decisions or admission to post-high school education.

In most subjects, testing involves a mix of nationally standardized exams and school-based assessments. The latter are used for course objectives that cannot be assessed well with standardized tests. In mathematics, for example, measurement, parts of geometry and statistical investigation are deemed more suitable for school-based assessment. These assessments are moderated (checked and where necessary adjusted) through regional or national consultation processes. Moderation provides feedback and ensures consistency of standards across the system.

Key sources of system and school accountability information are the Ministry’s national sampling exam, akin to the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and the ERO. “Since 1995, the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) has provided detailed national assessments of the knowledge, skills and attitudes of primary and intermediate school students at two levels: year 4 (ages 8-9) and year 8 (ages 12-13),” explains Crooks.

NEMP uses sampling of students (as does NAEP) over four-year cycles to assess fifteen different areas of the national curriculum. About sixty percent of the items, many of which are performance tasks, are publicly released. This provides a regular flow of information on student achievement in key areas.

The primary purpose of the ERO is to periodically inspect schools. Crooks reports the current review model focuses on “educational outcomes for students and factors that directly relate to these. Assistance is limited to guidance and suggestions of alternative approaches to consider, provided at the time of review. Most important of all, schools are asked to conduct a self-review and the external review places major emphasis on school targets and priorities, while not neglecting to draw attention to government goals that appear to be receiving too little priority.” In this model, adds Crooks, there is “a sense of negotiation” between school and government, rather than simply Ministry imposition, and the focus is “on quality of teaching and learning programmes.”

A new feature is that each school must set performance targets, focused mainly on student achievement. The goals are to increase performance while closing gaps between the indigenous Maori and the European majority. While schools do use private standardized exams, such tests are not required for reporting achievement. Each school is free to select its own indicators, though the Ministry or ERO may suggest additional measures or require changes.

In an article evaluating the New Zealand system, Crooks questions whether the performance target process will include a reasonable balance of local and national goals and be used to spur self-evaluation, or whether the requirements will so dominate that the system will be seen by educators as a bureaucratic tool, and perhaps as a threat.

Crooks concludes, “There is considerable scope for re-thinking the rationales for and forms of accountability processes to make them more intelligent, so that their ultimate effects are to enhance the quality of education.

A “Some Criteria for Intelligent Accountability Applied to Accountability in New Zealand,” by Terry Crooks, is on the web, here.