NMSSA 2017: Health & Physical Education - Key Findings

Publication Details

In 2017 the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) study focused on the learning area of health and physical education. NMSSA assessed the subjects of health education and physical education. For the purposes of this report, the learning area is referred to as health and PE.

Author(s): Educational Assessment Research Unit, University of Otago and New Zealand Council for Educational Research for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: December 2018

Executive Summary

There were three assessments: Critical Thinking in Health and PE (CT), Learning Through Movement (LTM) and Well-being. Contextual information about learning and teaching in health and PE was gathered from students, teachers and principals using a set of questionnaires.

Health and PE was last assessed by NMSSA in 2013. The 2013 and 2017 CT measurement scales were linked on the basis of assessment tasks that were used at both points in time.

This report is designed to provide a succinct overview of key findings from the 2017 health and PE study. The report is supplemented by a report focused on curriculum insights, a technical report and an online interactive statistical application. All reports and the interactive application can be found on the NMSSA website.

Achievement in 2017

Critical Thinking (CT) and Learning Through Movement (LTM)

  • There was ‘progress’ on the CT and LTM assessments between Year 4 and Year 8. On average, Year 8 students scored 38 CT units higher than Year 4 students on the CT assessment and 20 LTM units higher on the LTM assessment. These figures indicate that, on average, students make about 10 CT units of ‘progress’ in Critical Thinking per year between Year 4 and Year 8 and 5 LTM units of progress per year in Learning Through Movement.
  • A greater percentage of Year 4 students achieved level 2 curriculum expectations or higher than Year 8 students achieved level 4 curriculum expectations.
Table 1: Percentage of students meeting curriculum expectations on health and PE assessments in 2017
Year Curriculum Level Critical Thinking Learning Through Movement
Year 4 Level 2 or Above 88 63
Year 8 Level 4 33 45
  • There were statistically significant differences in average achievement on the CT and LTM assessments related to gender, ethnicity and school decile. On average and at both year levels:
    • girls scored higher than boys on the CT assessment and lower on the LTM assessment
    • non-Māori students scored higher than Māori students
    • non-Pacific students scored higher than Pacific students
    • students in high decile schools scored higher than those in mid decile schools who, in turn, scored higher than those in low decile schools.
    • Year 8 students attending secondary schools scored higher than those attending full primaryand intermediate schools.

Well-being (hauora)

  • During the well-being (hauora) interview the majority of students identified physical, mental/emotional and social aspects of well-being. Relatively few students identified spiritual
    aspects of well-being.
  • A greater percentage of Year 8 students than Year 4 students identified each aspect of well-being.

Changes in achievement between 2013 and 2017

  • It is important to be cautious when comparing achievement in 2013 and 2017 as several factors changed in the assessment of CT between these years. The changes related to differences in the method of assessment used, the ‘richness’ of the construct of Critical Thinking and the limited number of common items.
  • The percentage of Year 8 students achieving at curriculum level 4 declined in 2017.
  • The average score on the CT assessment at Year 8 decreased by 6 CT units between 2013 and 2017. The difference was statistically significant. There was no statistically significant change in the average score on the CT assessment at Year 4.
  • Students’ understandings of well-being were similar in 2013 and 2017.

Contextual factors associated with learning in health and PE

  • Students at both year levels had positive attitudes to learning health at school and very positive attitudes to learning PE.
  • Students at both year levels were confident about learning health and PE at school.  Most teachers felt satisfied with their work as a teacher and were confident about teaching health and PE.
  • Students reported more frequent opportunities to learn PE at school than to learn health.
  • Principals were reasonably confident in the quality of their school’s provision for learning in health and PE.
  • There was generally more resourcing and professional learning and development support for PE than for health.
  • Most schools used multiple and varied external providers to support their health and PE teaching.
  • Life Education was the most commonly used external provider in health, particularly at Year 4.
  • National, regional and local sports clubs and associations were the most commonly used external providers in PE, particularly at Year 8.


  1. ‘Health and Physical Education encompasses three related but different subjects: health education, physical education and home economics’ (Ministry of Education (2007) The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media, p.22.
  2. The insights report is released at a later date than this report.
  3. The low decile band comprised students in decile 1 to 3 schools, the mid decile band, students in decile 4 to 7 schools and the high decile band, students in decile 8 to 10 schools.

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