Key Points:

The National Party wants to introduce a national standard in education and require all schools to regularly measure children's progress.

In the wake of evidence that hundreds of schools are failing to properly assess pupils, the proposed system will be announced in a speech by leader John Key tomorrow.

Children would be tested against national guidelines in reading, writing and maths from the age of 5.

The announcement comes a week after an Education Review Office report revealed hundreds of schools were ineffective in assessing pupils and in using information to improve student performance. The report said many were also ineffective at passing the information on to parents and the community.

But education experts say what National was proposing was not new and a big stick approach may not be the answer. Systems of assessing progress at all levels were in place but more resources were needed so all teachers and schools have access to them.

Cathy Wylie, a chief researcher with the Council for Education Research, said setting a national standard was a complex issue and would not improve teaching and learning. It would be a rare school that was not carrying out some form of assessment in reading, writing and maths, she said.

All schools had to set goals based on assessment of students under the Ministry of Education's planning and reporting framework introduced in 2003. There were benchmarks to compare students' progress.

Good assessment systems like AsTLe (Assessment tools for Teaching and Learning) and PAT (Progressive Achievement Tests) were available for teachers to help students and their classes, and to suggest ways to improve performance. Most schools assessed children a month after they started school and systems were in place to identify those struggling, Wylie said.

The Ministry of Health was considering an assessment of early literacy and numeracy as part of the Wellchild check at age 4, as a way of alerting teachers and parents to potential problems. Schools had made good progress in assessing students and reporting their progress, Wylie said. "We have visitors from overseas expressing envy and they are coming from countries with standards."

The downside of setting a national standard was that teaching became a pass/fail exercise. "You start to teach to tests and tests can only give you a snapshot of the whole curriculum."

The main problem was resources, she said. "You can have standards but if you don't have the means and the capacity in the schools to work with kids to improve their learning then the standards don't mean anything."

Lyn Avery, principal of Glen Taylor School in Glen Innes, says her students were doing extremely well after two years using the AsTLe system of assessment.

Before 2004, the decile one school was criticised by the ERO for low student achievement. But in 2005, after introducing AsTLe, all students learned more in a year than they previously had in two.

"The kids really do engage really strongly with the information that the assessments give them. What we've noticed is it particularly engages Maori children... It gives them a greater sense of responsibility: 'these are my results, I need to start work on this'."

Children between years four and nine were tested at the beginning and end of every year, and their results were fed into software developed by Auckland University professor John Hattie. Each learning area showed up in a coloured graph like a speedometer, with a line showing where the child had achieved.

Avery said the school had managed the system so that it did not create extra work for teachers.

Key's speech tomorrow will touch on the problems plaguing NCEA, but no policy on that issue will be announced.