New Zealand's National Education Monitoring Project

commenced in 1993 with the task of assessing and reporting on the achievement of New Zealand primary school children in all areas of the school curriculum. Children are assessed at two class levels: Year 4 (halfway through primary education) and Year 8 (at the end of primary education). Different curriculum areas and skills are assessed each year, over a four year cycle. The main goal of national monitoring is to provide detailed information about what children can do so that patterns of performance can be recognised, successes celebrated, and desirable changes to educational practices and resources identified and implemented.

Each year, small random samples of children are selected nationally, then assessed in their own schools by teachers specially seconded and trained for this work. Task instructions are given orally by teachers, through video presentations, or in writing. Many of the assessment tasks involve the children in the use of equipment and supplies. Their responses are presented orally, by demonstration, in writing, or through submission of other physical products. Many of the responses are recorded on videotape for subsequent analysis.

In 1995, the first year that national monitoring was implemented, three areas were assessed: science, art, and the use of graphs, tables and maps. This report presents details and results of the assessments in science.

The assessments revealed wide variations in performance on science tasks. Some assessment tasks were handled very well by both year 4 and year 8 students, while others proved difficult for most students. Strengths and weaknesses were evident across all strands of the science curriculum. On average, the results demonstrated substantial learning between year 4 and year 8.

Most students responded with considerable enthusiasm to tasks which involved hands-on experimentation, as individuals or as teams. They did not perform very well in planning experimental work, but often corrected the deficiencies of their planning while carrying out their investigations.

Comparisons of the results for boys and girls deserve close scrutiny. Year 4 girls and boys performed equally well on most tasks, but year 8 boys performed better than year 8 girls on almost one third of the tasks. Year 4 girls were less confident about their ability in science than year 4 boys, and by year 8 even greater differences were apparent. Compared to year 8 boys, year 8 girls were less positive about science as a school subject, less inclined to engage in science activities in their own time, less interested in pursuing science as a school subject, and perceived themselves as less able in science.


The Project directors acknowledge the vital support and contributions of many people to this report, including:

  • the very dedicated staff of the Educational Assessment Research Unit
  • Dr Hans Wagemaker and Mr James Irving, Ministry of Education
  • members of the Project's National Advisory Committee
  • members of the Project's Science Advisory Panel
  • technical consultants, Professor Warwick Elley and Dr Alison Gilmore
  • principals, staff, and children of the schools where tasks were trialed
  • principals, staff, and Board of Trustees members of the 256 schools included in the 1995 sample
  • the 2873 children in the 1995 sample, and their parents
  • the 94 teachers who administered the assessments to the children
  • the 20 senior tertiary students who assisted with the marking process
  • the 120 teachers who assisted with the marking of tasks early in 1996