Papamoa mother-of-two Joy Luker is an advocate for National Standards, despite knowing teachers generally dislike the system.

"It shows me where my kids are standing and what they need to work on," she said.

"If my kids' reports are coming in and they are testing low, I'd be looking to get that sorted before they got to college where they have to stand on their own two feet."

Ms Luker has a son, 14, and a daughter, 12. Asking plenty of questions about how to interpret the report and what it all means is key, she said.


"The first time you get the report you don't have a clue because it's got As and Ps and Bs, and a line with a grey box.

"But I've asked a lot of questions about it and teachers are pretty good at talking to you about it," Ms Luker said.

"I've got quite an intelligent son," she said. "He's in the gifted class, and it was really interesting one year because he was testing well above his year in one subject but below the National Standard in another.

"It was really good for him because he realised he needed to work on that subject a bit more," she said.

However, she said parents should take the National Standards with a grain of salt.

One of her son's teachers said she "always marked hard" so although it was a National Standard there was some room for interpretation from teachers and parents.

- Allison Hess

Results a blot on National Standards

Primary school pass rates have virtually flatlined despite a six-year Government literacy and numeracy initiative costing more than $250 million.

Data shows a quarter of children entering high school are below the National Standards in reading, writing and maths.

Of the almost 60,000 students who began Year 9 last year, 17,900 were unable to meet writing requirements, 18,500 were behind in maths and 12,700 could not read at the expected level, meaning they would have to progress rapidly to have any hope of passing a high school qualification.

The figures have remained largely unchanged over three years, rising an average 1 per cent across all year levels since 2012.

Professor Stuart McNaughton, the Chief Education Scientific Adviser, said experts knew many of the reasons why children were falling behind and were already acting on those, but more could be done to lift achievement.

"The number we have set isn't 'magic'. In principle we should be able to get a higher proportion of students up to the standard."

Professor McNaughton said a 1 per cent gain meant up to 4000 more students reaching the standard each year.

A small, incremental increase across a large system was still a positive, he said.

NZME will this week explore what more could be done to lift results, with an investigation finding system-wide issues, including:

- Despite pumping billions of dollars into early childhood education, there has been no national effort to collate data on whether children's early literacy and numeracy has improved.

- Students entering teaching college tend to have lower marks than those across other degree-level courses; and the overall numbers studying teaching have dropped.

- Not all schools had the capability to take up Ministry interventions for under-achieving students, with some schools "overwhelmed" by the levels of under-achievement.

NZME will also examine patterns in National Standards results, which were able to be evaluated as a trend for the first time with the publication of three years of in-depth data. Analysis shows significant variability across subjects, and according to gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status.

Educators said the minimal improvement raised questions about whether the controversial National Standards initiative had worked as intended.

"It bears out what the profession said at the time - that the standards wouldn't be enough. They give us a broad look at where a child sits within an age group but don't tell us what their strengths and weaknesses are or what to do next," said long-time primary school principal Frances Nelson.

"It hasn't become critical to teaching and learning. It hasn't been the silver bullet. So why spend all that money on something we didn't need?"

National Standards was an integral part of John Key's 2008 election campaign, where he pledged to raise achievement by requiring schools to clearly set out expectations, and to report those clearly to parents. The standards, in which teachers use a four-point system to rank children from "well below" to "above", were widely criticised by the sector at the time but are now mandatory in all schools.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she expected more progress as the standards bedded in and as the new Communities of Learning, where schools band together to address achievement issues, got under way. While the percentage increase was not large, the improvement was "extremely meaningful" for the kids involved, she said.

"I am never satisfied with progress. I always want to go further, faster because I want all our kids to get the best education possible, but we have to recognise that National Standards is still in its infancy," she said.

Chief executive of the Education Council, Graham Stoop, said although National Standards had not "failed" it could have been more successful if there had been more support for teachers.

"We will see improvement over time. Right now though, we need to change the discussion from what the level of achievement is, to how to accelerate progress for all learners."

- Kirsty Johnston