Call for yearly literacy and numeracy tests

Handwriting "activates and strengthens the brain's orthographic mapping pathway", the report says...
Handwriting "activates and strengthens the brain's orthographic mapping pathway", the report says. Photo: Getty Images

By John Gerritsen

A ministerial advisory group wants annual "checkpoint" literacy and numeracy tests for all children.

It has also recommended grammar and handwriting lessons, including cursive handwriting, in primary schools and called for every child to have their own desk and chair.

The initial report from the Ministerial Advisory Group, on English and maths and statistics, went to Education Minister Erica Stanford in March and has now been made public.

It provided more detail about information already published by RNZ regarding the likely content of the revised English curriculum.

The advisory group recommended providing teachers with a clear curriculum that showed teachers what students should be expected to learn each year, along with guidance on teaching methods.

It said the updates could cause a "step-change" for New Zealand education, but warned they would fail without good teacher training and buy-in from schools.

The report said change was needed because children's educational achievement had been falling.

"In education, our national curriculum has been weak in specifying the knowledge that students are entitled to have taught to them. Teaching practices have not kept pace with research from cognitive psychology and other disciplines - the science of learning," it said.

The report said teachers already tested their pupils but this could not be left to chance, so it recommended annual "checkpoints".

"It is essential that students who fall behind curriculum expectations are identified before there are deleterious effects on their learning efficacy, and before catching them up becomes too difficult," the report said.

"The MAG recommends that the first checkpoint be situated six months after each student commences school, and that, thereafter, checkpoints be situated at the beginning of each school year, from Year 2.

"Situating checkpoints at the beginning of each school year would ensure that the teacher who collects these data will typically also be the teacher responsible for acting on them."

The report said test results would be for classroom and school use only and must not become so high-stakes that they drove teachers to teach to the test.

It recommended children in Years 4-6 learn handwriting, including cursive handwriting, and study the "conventions of text structure and style".

Children would be encouraged to write by hand as much as possible in their first three years at school.

"Only handwriting activates and strengthens the brain's orthographic mapping pathway. The importance of writing by hand must be made clear to teachers, and this may represent quite a change for teachers in some schools," the report said.

"The importance of appropriate furniture (desks and chairs for every student, at the right height) must also be made clear to teachers and principals."

It said the sequencing of teaching would need to be detailed enough to be helpful, but not so prescriptive that teachers lost agency.

The report recommended dividing the subject of English into English language and English literature from Year 7.

The language section would include grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling and punctuation.

A list of topics included syntax, "Latinate terms", tenses, and the use of apostrophes.

For literature, teachers would be given "a substantial corpus of recommended texts" to choose from.

The report said development of the list of texts could be overseen by the national library.

In maths, the group recommended a "move to explicit teaching of the whole class as a basis for mathematics and statistics teaching".

It said children in Years 0-3 would develop understanding of fractions and place value and in Years 4-6 measure angles, perimeters and area, and understand decimal numbers and decimal place value.

"By end of the end of Year 6, have fluent recall of multiplication and division facts up to 10×10 and be able to identify square numbers up to at least 100," an appendix to the report said.

The report recommended providing teachers with more guidance about "conditions for learning, including the importance of orderly classrooms, and recognising and being responsive to individual students, including their cultures and neurodiversity".

"A majority of the MAG believes that, if the practices it has recommended for inclusion in the Common Practice Model or amalgamated documents were successfully implemented by the teachers of New Zealand, we would witness a step-change in achievement in all of the domains of learning and subjects in scope," the report said.

The Education Ministry this week told schools the revised English and te reo rangatira curriculums for Years 0-6 would be available for consultation in term three, with schools required to use it from the start of next year.

The Year 7-13 English and te reo rangatira curriculums and the entire maths curriculum would be available for consultation in term four, with use required from the start of 2026.