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St Anne’s Catholic School

Narrative assessment case study

Narrative is a powerful form of assessment for learning. It can be a useful approach for supporting students with very significant special education needs whose progress and achievements may be too subtle for other forms of assessment to detect.

During 2009-2010, 27 Auckland schools took part in a narrative assessment professional learning and development project. The project focused on narrative assessment for students funded through what was then called the Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Schemes (ORRS). From the start of 2011, the name of the scheme has been changed to Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS). 

The project is built on an earlier development (2007-09) - The New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars for Learners with Special Education Needs. The exemplars use a form of narrative assessment known as learning stories.

This is a case study of St Anne’s Catholic School in Manurewa where the principal, Philip Cortesi, has been highly successful in using narrative assessment with all ORS-funded students in the school. Philip has been at the school for 12 years and has built up a stable staff committed to the learning of the Pasifika population in the school and to the inclusion of students with special education needs. Philip and his staff expect that all students will succeed. Of the 600 pupils at the school, eight receive ORS funding, while many others receive English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and other specialist support.

Getting started

When St Anne’s first joined the Narrative Assessment Project, one teacher and one teacher’s aide were involved. They took part in seminars and learned how to write narrative assessments. Throughout the following year a facilitator from the Project visited St Anne’s and helped the teacher and teacher’s aide to improve their writing. From the start, the teacher and the teacher’s aide found narrative assessment - learning stories - to be a very effective form of assessment.

The principal decided narrative assessment was just what was needed to support all the students with ORS funding in the school. For 2010 he appointed two lead teachers, Kath and Tracey, from within the school. They oversaw the development of narrative assessment skills by the teachers of the eight students with ORS funding.

I think in terms of looking at the school wide picture … all our students have a right to learn and a right to success. To make narrative assessment work, it has to be school-wide.” (Philip).
School wide use of narrative assessment (audio clip and transcript) >

The Narrative Assessment Leadership team: Tracey Elder, Philip Cortesi, Kathryn Blakie

The Narrative Assessment Leadership team (left to right): Tracey Elder, Philip Cortesi, Kathryn Blakie

With support from the Narrative Assessment Project, Kath and Tracey held a workshop for the teachers, teachers’ aides and parents of the eight students with ORS funding at St Anne’s. Kath and Tracey described and modelled narrative assessment, and everyone was given the opportunity to write narratives and receive feedback. After the workshop Kath asked the teachers to practise writing narratives about their students with ORS funding.

Philip gave each teacher’s aide a digital camera to capture the students’ learning. The photographs contributed to the evidence needed to write the narrative assessments. Through the Narrative Assessment Project release time was made available to the teachers and teachers’ aides for regular discussion about the learning and achievement of the students. The teachers’ aides were also released to work on the narratives. In the last week of term, after Kath and Tracey proof-read the narratives, they were sent home to the students’ families.

We did them that way because we wanted to make sure that the information that went home was relevant to the student, was linked to the student’s IEP and held no spelling or grammatical errors.” (Kath).

After Term 1 Kath and Tracey encouraged every student’s teaching team to write a weekly narrative assessment. The practice has continued as the teachers have realised the relevance of this form of assessment for their classroom practice.

It’s a positive form of assessment. You’re not talking about what the student can’t do; you’re talking about what they can.”(Tracey).

The teacher’s aide takes notes and photos. In the release time the teacher and teacher’s aide meet, analyse the learning captured, and write it up. The teacher’s aide also does a photo story.” (Kath). An effective form of assessment (audio clip with transcript) >

Throughout 2010, Kath and Tracey continued to support and guide the eight teachers to write narrative assessments about the achievements of their ORS-funded students. By the end of every term there were up to 10 or 12 narratives about each student, describing their achievements. These narratives were then taken to the Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings, forming vital evidence of the student’s progress and an essential point from which to set new learning goals. How useful the narrative assessments are for IEPs (audio clip with transcript) >

Comments from the classroom

Tracey describes her experience with writing narratives:

In terms of the student I work with it actually helped me to see what he is doing in his reading and allowed me to see that he was doing a lot more than I thought he could do. It’s actually allowed me to use traditional forms of assessment like running records, which I probably wouldn’t have considered. So definitely it’s the positive side of assessment and from what I learn from the narrative I can form my next steps for the student.

One of the teacher’s aides, Susan, tells how she is now writing narratives herself when she notices something exciting that her student is doing. She speaks of how she can now see where he has come from and what he is capable of.

Susan Fuiavailili is a teacher’s aide who uses narrative assessments

Susan Fuiavailili is a teacher’s aide who uses narrative assessments

How narrative assessments help (audio clip with transcript) >

Narrative assessments are great in that way because you can see the student’s capability really, knowing that, OK he can do that, we didn’t realise he could, and what he can achieve and now you can set new goals and push him along further.”(Susan). Why narratives are important (audio clip with transcript) >

Claude’s story

Claude is one of the ORS funded students at St Anne’s. His parents, Noelene and Keith, talk about what narrative assessment means for them.

Now I seem to understand more how he’s involved like, Claude said this, he responded to the teacher’s comment by saying … and I can make connections with the way he is at home.”(Noelene, Claude’s mother). How vital narrative assessments have become (audio clip with transcript) >

The portfolio comes home at the end of each term. But breakdowns of these come home weekly, so we can build on the learning for that day and make that the [home] learning for the week. We found that if we work on each topic at home for the whole week he’s just got it under control and he just excels at it.

Keith and Noelene Francois with Claude

Keith and Noelene Francois with Claude

Claude’s parents have noticed that Claude is much more confident at school now. And he just loves his portfolios of learning stories, reliving each successful moment as he reads about his own achievement. The narratives are assisting Claude to see himself as a successful learner.

"It has changed his awareness of himself. He now sees himself as a learner and an achiever. He just wants to excel. He’s so proud of [his stories]. For us as parents of a child with special needs you want to know that they are achieving and you want to know how he is achieving. With the way it’s written up and his response to his challenges, I think yes [narratives have changed the way Claude sees himself]."

A close home-school partnership has developed through sharing the narratives and Claude is becoming increasingly independent. His parents think he’s improved tremendously because the narratives recognise the best in their child.  The relationship with school is stronger (audio clip with transcript) >

"Now he’s such an independent guy and he’s improved tremendously thanks to picking each individual child’s learning capabilities. Narrative assessment really brings out the best in Claude."

Claude enjoys reading his narrative assessments

Claude enjoys reading his narrative assessments

How have the teachers responded to writing narratives?

The teachers wrote eight narratives in the first term. Once their narrative assessments appeared in the IEPs, and the teachers saw parents’ responses, it became obvious that the parents were able to have more involvement at the IEP meetings through looking at the narratives. So this in turn encouraged the teachers to write more narratives. After Term 1 there was the expectation that approximately each week one narrative would be written for each student. As teachers gained confidence they started writing more narratives. Everyone on board (audio clip with transcript) >

"Teachers are learning to notice and respond to the ‘achievement moment’ more freely now. “At times when it happens you can’t control what it’s going to be about. If it happens it just happens.” (Kath).

Philip also sees teachers working more effectively with the ORS-funded students and indeed with all students. “What it [use of narrative assessment] is starting to do overall is to improve teachers’ practice in terms of effective teaching and learning. So what we’re doing is building the knowledge and expertise of the people in the school, that is the way we need to go in the school. It is just becoming part and parcel of everything we do at school … the teachers now see the benefit of it.”

What will happen now?

Philip: “If we value narrative assessment we need to have systems in place.

So during 2011 Kath and Tracey will support a new group of teachers and teachers’ aides to use narrative assessment with ORS-funded students. Philip and his staff expect that there will be students other than those who are ORS funded for whom this form of assessment may be relevant. And some parents may also write narratives because they strengthen the partnership through home and school.

To increase the success of transitions from one class to another, Tracey and Kath have devised a form on which they have asked each teacher to write down five things they see as important for next year’s teacher to know. They have also asked the current teacher to list two strengths of the student and two challenges, and to write a brief summary of the student’s ability in each of the key competencies. In addition to the four portfolios (one from each term) of narrative assessments, this form will assist next year’s teacher to make a great start to a new year of learning for the ORS-funded student joining their class.


Kath and Tracey summarised the benefits of narrative assessment in a report for the school Board:

  1. A positive form of assessment based around what a student can achieve, not what they cannot.
  2. Clear evidence of what a student is achieving in the classroom setting.
  3. Over time, a clear picture of the student’s achievements builds up. Teachers and teachers’ aides therefore plan a more targeted learning programme.
  4. Parental feedback has been positive. Parents regularly receive snapshots of the various classroom learning activities.
  5. The portfolios of narrative assessments provide an ongoing picture of the whole year’s learning and a celebration of each learning step - no matter how small or big.
  6. Evidence to support goals to be set at an IEP.
  7. Includes parents in assessment and allows them to share their child’s strengths.
  8. Clearly supports the Catholic character of the school in terms of social justice, ensuring equitable outcomes for all students, and meeting their individual needs


Thanks to all the people at St Anne’s Catholic School who contributed to this case study:

  • Claude Francois – student
  • Noelene and Keith Francois – Claude’s parents
  • Tracey Elder – Narrative Assessment Leader and teacher
  • Kathryn Blakie – Team Leader Narrative Assessment
  • Susan Fuiavailili – Teacher’s aide
  • Philip Cortesi – Principal