NMSSA 2017 Insights for Teachers: Health and Physical Education

Publication Details

This report is designed to support health and physical education (HPE) teaching in primary classrooms. It describes student responses to a selection of tasks from assessment of the HPE learning area carried out by the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) in 2017.

The document has four parts. Part one introduces NMSSA and the NMSSA HPE assessment. Part two looks at a selection of tasks and student responses focused on critical thinking about health-related issues. Part three focusses on student skills in movement related to two physical activity tasks. Part four discusses students understandings of well-being and examines an aspect of numeracy, and an aspect of literacy as demonstrated in two tasks.

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

Date Published: May 2019


What is NMSSA?

NMSSA is designed to assess student achievement across the New Zealand Curriculum at Year 4 and Year 8 in New Zealand English-medium state and state-integrated schools. The study is carried out over five-year cycles and each year involves nationally representative samples of students from 100 schools at Year 4 and 100 schools at Year 8. The first cycle of NMSSA ran from 2012 to 2016. Health and physical education (HPE) was assessed in 2013 and again in 2017.

The health and physical education learning area

The focus of the HPE learning area is on ‘the well-being of the students themselves, of other people and of society through learning in health-related and movement contexts’1. At the heart of the learning in HPE are four underlying and interdependent concepts: hauora, attitudes and values, a socio-ecological perspective, and health promotion. These concepts, together with the four strands: personal health and physical development; movement concepts and motor skills; relationships with other people; and healthy communities and environments and  their achievement objectives, integrated with seven key areas of learning (mental health, sexuality education, food and nutrition, body care and physical safety, physical activity, sports studies and outdoor education) provide a framework for learning in HPE. Within this learning area students are encouraged to think critically and creatively, and to plan for and potentially engage in critical action related to issues that evolve from their own and others’  lives and experiences.

The NMSSA health and physical education assessment

In developing the NMSSA HPE assessment three sets of tasks were designed.  One set of tasks focused on students’ achievement related to critical thinking.  A second set of activities focused on students’ learning in movement. The final assessment focused on students’ understanding of well-being.

Tasks were designed to assess multiple dimensions of HPE. For example, a critical-thinking task might focus on the students’ ability to:

  • recognise stereotypes
  • think critically about the underlying message of a story
  • take and justify a position about the message
  • suggest strategies to promote personal well-being in relation to the message.

In a learning-through-movement task students might:

  • participate actively in a game
  • move in a range of ways
  • share their strategic thinking
  • evaluate their strategies
  • identify their own and others’  strengths and areas to develop
  • provide specific feedback to a peer.

The well-being task invited students to share their ideas about factors that contributed to their health and well-being.

Students participated in these tasks by means of three different assessment approaches. These included:

  • Short written responses to open-ended questions
  • One-to-one interview with a teacher assessor
  • Team-based movement activities where students participated in pairs or groups of  four.

Students interacted with a range of stimulus material including video-clips (advertisements, news articles, human interest items), fictional narratives, photographs, and physical education equipment, before sharing their ideas in written or oral form. Movement tasks were game and play based.

Care was taken to create tasks that were accessible and engaging for all students while encouraging them to think critically about issues as they impacted on the students themselves, on others and on society.  Questions were designed to allow for a range of responses, from simple to sophisticated.

The NMSSA health and physical education scales

Combined results from the two sets of assessment tasks enabled NMSSA to create two scales of achievement to describe the kinds of things students could do in HPE.

These were:

  1. Critial Thinking in HPE (CT) scale
  2. Learning through Movement (LTM) scale

The CT and LTM scales each comprise  a numerical scale on the left, and bands of descriptors to the right.  Each band of descriptors should be viewed as a bundle – that is, they are not hierarchical within the band, but instead together illustrate the levels of thinking or movement skills that students at a particular level would typically be able to demonstrate.

Figure 1: NMSSA Critical Thinking in Health and Physical Education scale

Figure 1: NMSSA Critical Thinking in Health and Physical Education scale.

Figure 2: NMSSA Learning Through Movement scale

Figure 2: NMSSA Learning Through Movement scale.

How did the students do on Health and Physical Education assessments2?

Figures 3 and 4 show how students achieved on the 2017 NMSSA Critical Thinking in HPE (CT) and Learning Through Movement  (LTM) scales.

The 2017 study found that on the NMSSA CT assessment:

  • most students in Year  4 were achieving at or above level 2 curriculum expectations
  • a third of students in Year 8 were achieving at or above level 4 curriculum expectations.

Figure 3 : Distribution of scores on the Critical Thinking scale

Figure 3 : Distribution of scores on the Critical Thinking scale

On the Learning Through Movement assessment:

  • almost two thirds of the students in Year 4 were achieving at or above level 2 expectations
  • just under a half (45 percent) of students in Year 8 were achieving at or above level 4 expectations

On average and at both year levels girls scored higher than boys on the CT scale and lower  on the LTM scale.

Figure 4 : Distribution of scores on the Learning Through Movement scale

Figure 4 : Distribution of scores on the Learning Through Movement scale


  1. Ministry of Education (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum.
  2. For a full description of the results refer to NMSSA Report 16: Health and Physical Education 2017 – Key Findings.

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