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Innovative Assessment | Teachers | Students | Management


Students share their experience of innovative internal assessment and the meaningful learning that goes along with it.

‘Motivating students isn’t about convincing them to see things as you see them or forcing them to be excited about something they aren’t excited about. It’s about putting the students first ‒ identifying their likes, dislikes, interests, or desired outcomes to see if you can incorporate any of those into lessons in a way that gets students to engage with the content.’ - Rann Miller ‘Using Culturally Responsive Lessons to Boost Engagement’

‘Learners’ aspirations, interests, needs and contexts drive their learning. The student can be the designer of their learning, an active participant not a passenger.’ - NZQA Transforming Assessment Praxis (TAP)

The students whose learning has been the subject of innovative assessment talk about how their learning is now more engaging. They outline the difference it makes when they can choose the context - whether that’s based on a personal interest, a familiar situation or part of a personal interest project - and speak about achieving beyond their own expectations.

The students share their thoughts on their achievement ‒ generally derived from a form (or combination) of assessment that is:

  • integrated and cross curricular
  • through personalised assessment with choice about context, mode of assessment and sometimes time.
  • via project-based learning where they have agency to undertake an investigation or solve a problem through a project.

Examples from Practice

In these video clips, students whose passions, needs and contexts are at the heart of their learning talk about what the experience of innovative assessment means for them.

A student from Hobsonville Point Secondary School describes how the deeper understanding enabled through Project Based learning, helped her in assessments and in studying for Scholarship.

Topics covered: future of energy in NZ; study for scholarship; helped with other learning areas; deeper understanding; purposeful assessment; focusing on internals that are meaningful for the future reduces workload stress.

Video duration: 3:12 minutes


A student from Papamoa College outlines his project and describes how project based learning helped to improve both his engagement and achievement.

Topics covered: the process of finalising a project, future possibilities for widening the scope, the advantages of learning in this way, benefits of whānau involvement.

Video duration: 2:35 minutes


This Rototuna High School student talks first about a Drama and Art integrated unit and then a Music and Drama integrated assessment and the depth of learning that resulted from her work.

Topics covered: complementary Drama/Art standards; masks; integrated Music/Drama assessment; value of integrated learning – ‘Now I don’t take the subject at face value.’; assessment modes.

Video duration: 2:35 minutes


An Ormiston Senior College student talks about using sphero bots for a Maths assessment and how this type of assessment helped cement the learning for her.

Topics covered: Maths – spiro robots; value of anytime assessment; ‘Learning still stuck in my head’.

Video duration: 2:18 minutes


A Wellington High School student talks about how personalised assessment allows him to learn at his own speed and to choose to be assessed when he feels he understands the material sufficiently.

Topics covered: self paced learning; assessment when ready; having context choice increases engagement: from ‘kiwi’ bird context to ‘iPhone tech context.

Video duration: 3:01 minutes


A student at Ormiston Senior College talks about using coding as evidence for two Maths standards (numeric reasoning and L2 coding).

Topics covered: student agency and increased engagement; context; integration; computing; coding.

Video duration: 2:10 minutes


This Papamoa College student talks about a group project. He outlines some of the challenges and solutions and how the assessment happened within the group.

Topics covered: group project; film-making; importance of self-management; much improved achievement due to following passion.

Video duration: 2:29 minutes


This Wellington High School student talks about why he likes choosing the context of his Maths assessment.

Topics covered: choosing context gives more interest in and control of learning; benefits of sharing ideas with a classmate, yet each is assessed individually.

Video duration: 1:32 minutes

Discussion tools

Among these discussion tools you will find resource material you can use to:

  • stimulate thinking about what an innovative assessment programme might mean for your students
  • consider how more innovative assessment practices might improve equity of NCEA access for Māori and Pasifika students
  • generate ideas on how you can better cater assessment to meet student needs.

Click on the links below to take you to resources which may help on an individual, department or school-wide process for change.

Engagement through context

Read how a student’s exposure to evidence of his culture’s significant standing at Parliament was a ‘mind-opening and exhilarating’ experience, previously unimaginable from his perspective as ‘a small-town teenager’.

Discussion question:

How could you use more innovative assessment to better engage your students by supporting them to use their own cultural context in presenting their work for assessment?

Engaging Māori students

Use the questions below to stimulate discussion around how you support Māori students.

Discussion questions:

  • What feedback have Māori students provided about the quality of teacher-student relationships?
  • How well does the school foster supportive student leaders and/or role models for Māori students?


The following articles provide reading around the following important themes

  • Equity
  • Teacher/student relationships
  • Culturally relevant teaching, learning, assessment
  • Teacher expectations


Te Kotahitanga: Addressing educational disparities facing Māori students in New Zealand

Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T., & Teddy, L. 2009, in Teaching and Teacher Education, Vol.25, Issue 5, pp.734-742. (Note: Rights need to be acquired in order to access this article.)

Abstract: The major challenges facing education in New Zealand today are the continuing social, economic and political disparities within our nation, primarily between the descendants of the European colonisers and the Indigenous Māori people. These disparities are also reflected in educational outcomes. In this paper, an Indigenous Māori Peoples' solution to the problems of educational disparities is detailed. Te Kotahitanga is a research and professional development project that seeks to improve the educational achievement of Māori students in mainstream secondary schools. Students ‘voices’ were used to inform the development of the project in a variety of ways: firstly to identify various discursive positions related to Māori student learning; secondly, to develop professional development activities, and thirdly, to create an Effective Teaching Profile. The paper concludes by identifying how implementing the Effective Teaching Profile addresses educational disparities.



Twelve thousand hours: Education and poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand

Ed. Carpenter, V., & Osborne, S. 2014, Dunmore, Auckland, NZ.

There is well-documented concern regarding the links between poverty and education; statistics demonstrate, over many decades, that the economically poorer the New Zealand child's family, the more likely it is the child will not reach her/his potential. The blame for such inequitable outcomes is variously placed on children's families and communities, on teachers and schools, and on wider structural and system injustices. The contributors to this book are key NZ writers and thinkers in the field of education and poverty. Reasons for our contemporary schooling's inequitable outcomes are examined and critiqued.



Open to critique: predictive effects of academic outcomes from a bridging/foundation programme on first-year degree-level study

Curtis E, Wikaire E, Jiang Y, McMillan L, Loto R, Fonua S, Herbert R, Hori M, Ko T, Newport R, Salter D, Wiles J, Airini, & Reid P. 2017, in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol. 42, Issue no.1, pp. 151-167.

Abstract: This research identifies the predictive effect of academic outcomes achieved within a bridging/foundation programme, targeted towards indigenous and ethnic minority students, on first-year degree-level outcomes. Overall performance within the bridging/foundation programme was positively associated with increasing Grade Point Average (GPA), ‘Core 4’ GPA and passing all courses in first year. However, mixed associations were identified between feeder bridging/foundation courses and their intended first year course counterparts. These findings support the continued provision of bridging/foundation education; however, curricular reform within the bridging/foundation programme was required. Key developments included: restructuring course delivery; increasing constructive alignment across the curriculum; increasing cultural content within western science-orientated courses; introduction of cross-curricular assessment and use of additional innovative teaching and learning activities. Additional challenges remain for degree programmes to explore how they can change in order to better support indigenous and ethnic minority student success within first-year tertiary study.



Māori and Pacific Secondary Student and Parent Perspectives on Achievement, Motivation and NCEA

Graham, J., Meyer, L., McKenzie, L., McClure, J., & Weir, K. 2010, in Assessment Matters, Vol.2, pp. 132-157.

In this study, Māori and Pacific students and parents were interviewed about NCEA and its impact on motivation and achievement. Participants reported valuing the opportunities and outcomes associated with NCEA while emphasising where further work is needed. The implications of these findings are discussed for policy and practice within the NCEA framework.



What works: Academically successful Pasifika males identify factors contributing to their educational outcomes

Hannant, B. 2013, Unpublished Master’s thesis, Massey University, Auckland.

A young Pāsifika male stated in Hannant’s (2013) study:

'It is important that the teacher knows where I come from, where my country of origin is. I don’t want to be lumped into a general category. I want to be known as different from Māori boys as well because we might all be brown but we have different styles of learning and different things happening at home for all of us. (p.24).'



Developing Equity for Pāsifika Learners Within a New Zealand Context: Attending to Culture and Values

Hunter, J., Hunter, R., Bills, T. et al. 2016, in NZ Journal of Educational Studies, 51, pp.197–209.

Hannant’s article (above) is one of five year-long research studies described in this larger body of research. It also includes “an integrated summary of key themes which emerged from the findings of the five studies. While these studies focus on the schooling experiences reported by students, their families, and educators they draw our attention to ways culturally responsive teaching for Pāsifika students can be enacted in New Zealand school settings.”

In another of these research studies (Bills and Hunter’s 2015 study) the teacher “further elaborated on how he understood the need for Pāsifika students to see their schooling experiences as part of their ‘lived world’ rather than as disconnected from it. …In turn, his Pāsifika students affirmed the importance of his use of relevant contexts and seeing themselves in the mathematics problems.”

This paper provides “some clear exemplars which illustrate the equitable outcomes for Pāsifika students and their families when educators relate to them as culturally located people with rich funds of knowledge to contribute.”



The importance of the teacher/student relationship for Maori and Pasifika students

Hawk, K., Cowley, E., Hill, J., & Sutherland, S. 2002, in NZCER Research Information for Teachers, Set 2002: No.3, pp.44-49.

In three separate research projects involving Māori and Pasifika lower SES students in the Auckland region, the dominant theme to emerge is the critical importance of the relationship between teacher and learner. When a positive relationship exists, students are more motivated to learn, they participate more actively in their learning, and the learning is likely to be more effective. The paper explores the components of the relationship that were common to students from primary through to tertiary study.



Developing Equity for Pasifika Learners within a New Zealand Context: Attending to Culture and Values

Hunter, J., Hunter, R., Bills, T., et al. 2016, in New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, Vol.51(2), pp.197-209.

Abstract: Many Pāsifika students start their schooling fluent in their own language and with a rich background of knowledge and experiences. However, very quickly they join high numbers of Pāsifika students failing within the education system. The reasons are diverse but many link directly to the structural inequities they encounter which cause a disconnect (and dismissal) of their cultural values, understandings, and experiences. In this article we share the findings across multiple studies of the role that language, family, and respectful relationships hold as enablers or barriers to Pāsifika students’ access to education. We illustrate that when educators consider the language and culture of Pāsifika students and explicitly establish respectful and reciprocal relationships with the students and their family, learning is enhanced and their cultural identity positively affirmed.



Subjectivity of teacher judgments: Exploring student characteristics that influence teacher judgments of student ability

Meissel, K., Meyer, F., Yao, E.S., Rubie-Davies, C.M. 2017, in Teaching and Teacher Education, Vol.65, pp.48-60.

Abstract: Teacher judgments of student achievement are increasingly used for high-stakes decision-making, making it imperative that judgments be as fair and reliable as possible. Using a large national database from New Zealand, we explored the relation between psychometrically designed standardized achievement results and teacher judgments in reading (N=4771 students) and writing (N=11,765 students) using hierarchical linear modelling. Our findings indicated that judgments were systematically lower for marginalized learners after controlling for standardized achievement differences. Additionally, classroom and school achievement composition were inversely related to teacher judgments. These discrepancies are concerning, with important implications for equitable educational opportunities.



Exploring Pasifika Student Conceptions of Success and Learning at Secondary School

Mose, R. 2012, Master’s thesis, Auckland University, Auckland. 

Download the PDF (PDF, 380KB)

This thesis explores student conceptions of success and learning at secondary school.



They Always Have My Back: A Strengths-Based Approach to Understanding the Value(s) of Pasifika Brotherhoods in Education in Aotearoa New Zealand

Reynolds, M., 2018, International Journal of Multicultural Education, Vol.20, No.2 pp.1-23.

Abstract: Set in Aotearoa New Zealand, this examination of “Pasifika” education as an inter-cultural event discusses what students from the Pacific diaspora say about educational success. Against a backdrop of literature that pays attention to teacher-student relationships, achievement targets, and peer relationships, the article uses Pacific concepts to theorise the dynamics between individuals, “brotherhood” groups, and success. It suggests that teachers and institutions might respond better in intercultural situations by “looking backwards to walk forwards.



Expecting the Best for Students: Teacher Expectations and Academic Outcomes

Rubie-Davies, C., Hattie, J., Hamilton, R. 2006, in British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol.76, Issue 3, pp.429-444.

Excerpt from abstract: This study aimed to explore differences in teachers' expectations and judgments of student reading performance for Maori, Pacific Island, Asian and New Zealand European students. A further objective was to compare teacher expectations and judgments with actual student achievement. The participants were 540 students of 21 primary teachers in Auckland schools.



The schooling experiences of Pasifika students

Siope, S.A. 2011, Set: Research Information for Teachers, 3, pp.10–16.

The growing diversity of students in mainstream schools in Aotearoa New Zealand is challenging for educators and policy makers alike. Educational researchers in the 21st century have shown that listening to what students have to say about what works best for them is more important than ever. This article discusses the narratives of schooling experiences of two generations of Pasifika students, comparing the experiences of Pasifika students from Auckland secondary schools involved in the Te Kotahitanga project in 2009 with the author’s schooling experiences in the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.



How can we teach them when they won’t listen? How teacher beliefs about Pasifika values and Pasifika ways of learning affect student behaviour

Spiller, L. 2012, Set: Research Information for Teachers, 3, pp.58–67.

This article describes a study in which a mirror was held up to the complexities of classroom interactions across cultures. Both the teachers and Pasifika students were able to discuss what they saw. The study found that teachers looking for, and acting according to, “Pasifika ways of learning” may not always be in the best interests of Pasifika students. Teachers’ own tacit and expressed beliefs and understandings sometimes acted to impede their Pasifika students’ learning. Even when their awareness was raised, complex sets of relationships and interactions seemed to be hard to change.



Loving out loud: Community mentors, teacher candidates, and transformational learning through a pedagogy of care and connection 

Zygmunt, E., Cipollone, K., Tancock, S., Clausen, J., Clark, P., & Mucherah, W. 2018, in Journal of Teacher Education, Vol.69 (2), pp.127-139.

Abstract: Although there has been significant research examining the practice of culturally responsive teaching, little empirical work to date has examined the role that community-engaged, teacher preparation models play in shaping prospective teachers’ orientation toward cultural responsiveness. This study of 60 preservice teacher candidates enrolled in a program of community-engaged teacher preparation at a midsized Midwestern [USA] public university specifically examined the ways in which caring relationships between preservice teachers and volunteer community mentors scaffolded candidates’ contextualized understanding of culture, community, and identity of children and families. Findings provide evidence that as candidates experience authentic caring within the space of supportive relationships, they emerge equipped to care in more authentic, culturally responsive ways for their students.

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