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Consider the evidence: What evidence does a school have?


All schools have data about student achievement. To make the most of these data to improve learning, we need to take be aware of many other factors – evidence that describes our students’ wider learning environment.

It’s useful to think of all data and other evidence in these categories:

  • Demographics – objective data that describes a school and its students, staff and community, much of it collected at enrolment and systematically every day.
  • Student achievement – data and other evidence from national assessments, standardised testing we carry out in the school, portfolios of student work, etc.
  • Perceptions – evidence of what staff, students and others think about the school; this is probably the most subjective evidence but much of it will be factual and collected in formal ways.
  • School processes – how our school is organised and operates – the timetable, resources, etc.
  • Other practice – the experiences of others, including documented academic research, the experiences of other schools, etc.


Data that provides a profile of our school (so also known as profile data):

  • School – decile, roll size, urban/rural, single sex or co-educational, teaching spaces.
  • Students – ethnicity, gender, age, year level, attendance, lateness, suspension, and other disciplinary data, previous schools, part-time employment.
  • Staff – gender, age, years of experience, qualifications, teaching areas, involvement in national curriculum and assessment, turnover rate.
  • Parents/caregivers and community – socio-economic factors, breadth of school catchment, occupations.

The example in the next section (What can we do with evidence?) provides an innovative approach to collecting achievement data and demographic evidence for year 9 students.

Student achievement

Evidence about student achievement

  • National assessment results – NCEA, NZ Scholarship – details like credits above and below year levels, breadth of subjects entered.
  • Standardised assessment results administered internally – PAT, asTTle testing.
  • Other in-school assessments – most will be non-standardised but some, especially within departments, will be consistent across classes – includes data from previous schools, primary/intermediate .
  • Student work – work completion rates, internal assessment completion patterns, exercise books, notes, drafts of material – these can provide useful supplementary evidence.


Evidence about what students, staff, parents and the community think about the school. In many schools there will be few formal records of this sort of evidence.

  • Self-appraisal – student perceptions of their own abilities, potential, achievements, attitudes.
  • Formal and informal observations made by teachers – peer interactions, behaviour, attitudes, engagement, student-teacher relationships, learning styles, classroom dynamics.
  • Structured interactions – records from student interviews, parent interviews, staff conferences on students.
  • Externally generated reports – from ERO and NZQA (these contain data and perceptions).
  • Student voice – student surveys, student council submissions, conferencing.
  • Other informal sources – anecdotal views about the school environment, staff and student morale, board perceptions, conversations among teachers.


As part of the Assess to Learn project (AToL), a school has developed a structured system for recording student perceptions about their own learning. Outcomes and Indicators includes a self-evaluation sheet and a matrix of indicators of progress.

School processes

Evidence about how your school is organised and operates. Some teachers may not think of this as evidence that can be used in decision making, but it is often an important factor in student achievement.

  • Timetable – structure, period length, placement of breaks, subjects offered, student choices, tertiary, and workforce factors.
  • Classes – how they are compiled, their characteristics, effect of timetable choices, etc.
  • Resources – access to libraries, text books, ICT, special equipment.
  • Finance – how the school budget is allocated, how funds are used within departments, expenditure on professional development.
  • Staffing – policies and procedures for employing staff, allocating responsibility, special roles, workload, subjects, and classes.

Other practice

It’s important that a school’s evidence-driven decision making benefits from the results of research and the experiences of other schools (and maybe from non-school environments).

  • Documented research – university and other publications, Ministry of Education’s Best Evidence Syntheses, New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), New Zealand Association for Research in Education (NZARE), overseas equivalents.
  • Experiences of other schools – informal contacts, local clusters, advisory services, professional and subject associations, TKI LeadSpace.

The Ministry of Education's Best Evidence Synthesis of the research literature on quality teaching provides pointers to the kinds of professional support that can make a difference to student outcomes.