Gordon Knight

It is not possible to identify directly from the NEMP reports particular aspects of the performance of the Year 4 and Year 8 students who participated in the NEMP assessments and achieved the higher scores. However, we can identify the areas these students found difficult by examining those items of the NEMP general education assessments where students’ overall performance was weakest. The study reported here drew items from all subjects (except Art) included in the two NEMP assessment cycles of 1995 to 2002.

Items on which student performance was weakest (i.e., less than 25% of the students completed them successfully) were identified, and it was assumed that at least some of the ‘higher achieving students’ (i.e., those in the upper quartile of the particular assessments) would not have completed these items successfully. The results from the two cycles of assessment in each subject area were then combined, and each identified item classified by the essential skills required for its successful completion.

• Numeracy skills, physical skills and knowledge skills were a significant feature of the more difficult items in particular subject areas, but were not major difficulties across the curriculum.

• Good communication skills were required in some of the more difficult items of every assessment area. Overall, 37% of these items at Year 4 and 40% at Year 8 required good communication skills.

• Problem-solving skills were required in 48% of the more difficult skills at Year 4, and 54% at
Year 8.

• Information skills were required in 17% of the more difficult items at Year 4 and 16% at Year 8.


Communication and problem-solving are the generic skills most likely to challenge more able students. Often, both skills are required. A question asking a student to explain something is likely to involve reflective thinking followed by communication. The same is true the other way round: a question asking a student to listen to, or read, an explanation and then indicate that they have understood it, requires communication followed by reflective thinking followed, perhaps, by more communication. This interaction between thinking and communication may be an important way of best challenging more able students.

Project work is a useful way of providing individual and independent study for more able students. However, project work can easily become an exercise in some of the simpler information skills. It is therefore very important that project and any supplementary work for more able students strongly emphasises both problem-solving and communication skills.
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The full report of this probe study will be available on this website by Jan 2004 or can be obtained from USEE.