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Education, National Standards, Professor Martin Thrupp, Research on Education

National Standards and the Damage Done, by Martin Thrupp

Prof Martin ThruppBelow is an excerpt from Professor  Martin Thrupp’s excellent 2014 Graham Nuthall Annual Lecture, National Standards and the Damage Done, given at the University of Canterbury on September 4, 2014.  

Tonight I’m going to be talking about the National Standards, while also recognising that a variety of other developments cluster around or depend on the National Standards in various ways. They include:

  • Public Achievement Information (PAI). This is the public release of educational data as part of a ‘pipeline’ from early childhood to tertiary, with the proportion of children ‘at’ or ‘above’ in the National Standards as part of that. The PAI will be discussed more later.
  • Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT). This is an online tool to help teachers make OTJs (Overall Teacher Judgements). Again, discussed later.
  • Ngā Whanaketanga. Less is heard about this assessment system for Māori-medium settings compared to the National Standards. What’s worth noting in the context of this lecture is that while Ngā Whanaketanga uses a four-point scale like that of the National Standards, the language of the scale is more developmental and less stigmatising. For instance ‘Well below’ is matched by ‘Manawa Taki’: Me āta tautoko kia tutuki Ngā Whanaketanga Rumaki Māori. (The student requires in-depth support to assist their achievement for particular learning areas).
  • Professional learning and development. The National Standards system has come to dominate this area while PD in other areas such as science, social studies, the arts and environmental education was cut back as National Standards were introduced.
  • Curriculum resources. Again, National Standards are looming large.
  • ‘Schoolification’ of early childhood education. Anecdotally, centres are coming under more pressure to prepare children for their first year of school. Some are using preparation for school as a marketing strategy in competition with other centres.
  • Possible extension of National Standards into years 9 and 10. This is quite likely but remains to be seen.
  •  Impact on secondary curriculum. Even if National Standards don’t get extended into junior secondary classes, the secondary sector with its many assessed subject areas could be concerned about a narrowing of the broad primary curriculum through an extra focus on reading, writing and maths due to the National Standards.
  • ‘Investing in Educational Success’. National Standards are going to become part of how schools and/or teachers are assessed for this policy, quite how remains to be seen.
  • Research and politics of research. I gave a paper about this at last year’s NZARE conference (see its website or see the latest New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies). The Government has funded its own research on the National Standards being undertaken by Maths Technology Limited, a Dunedin-based company. The name of that project is the ‘National Standards: School Sample Monitoring and Evaluation Project’. It is more about tinkering than about asking fundamental questions although it has produced some interesting findings.

We will all have our views on the pros and cons of the National Standards policy and there’s likely to be some truth in even highly divergent points of view because education is complex and contextualised and so much depends, doesn’t it – it depends on the school, the classroom, the teacher, even the individual child. But my argument will be that on balance the National Standards are taking us down a data-driven path that will be very damaging for the culture of our schools and classrooms and for the education of individual children.

I’m going to be basing my arguments tonight mainly on the RAINS Project, that’s the ‘Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards’ project, a three-year study of the National Standards policy in six diverse schools. Multiple data sources were used including 486 interviews (with many being repeated interviews) with school leaders, teachers, parents, children and ERO reviewers. There was also classroom observation and analysis of documents. There are three RAINS reports, which I will call here RAINS 1, RAINS 2 and the final RAINS report1

As well as reporting the research findings from the schools, the reports give some background to the National Standards and to the shifting politics around the National Standards from year to year which I won’t have time to go through tonight so I would recommend them for that too. It’s best to start with the final RAINS report as it has a Q&A format and some of the questions cover the earlier reports as well.

Here are the six schools in the study (all names are pseudonyms of course):

  • Seagull School: A large high socio-economic suburban school. Mainly European/Pākehā and Asian intake.
  • Kanuka School: A large low socio-economic suburban school. About 70% Māori. Total immersion and bilingual classes.
  • Juniper School: A small mid socio-economic school with a mainly Pākehā/European intake about an hour’s drive from nearest city.
  • Cicada School: A large low socio-economic suburban school. About 20% Māori, 40% Pasifika and 30% Asian.
  • Magenta School: A high socio-economic school with a mainly European/Pākehā intake about 30 minutes drive from a city.
  • Huia Intermediate: A large mid-socio-economic suburban intermediate. 40% Pākehā/European, otherwise very diverse.

I’m not going to go through them all but would say they were chosen for their diversity, and provide some good examples of the more than 2000 versions of the National Standards that will be going on across the country in primary, intermediate, area and composite schools as we speak.

Why so many differences? As I illustrate in RAINS 1 it’s of course partly about the different social context of the schools. Schools were also already on different curricula, pedagogical, assessment and leadership trajectories before the National Standards policy was introduced and their different responses to the National Standards represent incremental changes along those varying paths. And there are different enactments of the National Standards policy in the sense of different translations and interpretations. So much so that at times it seems like schools are barely reading the same book, let alone on the same page.

In RAINS 2 there are twenty pages that lay out the many sources of variation at national, regional, school and classroom level that were affecting the RAINS schools’ judgments against the National Standards. For instance the schools all claimed to use unconferenced (unassisted) writing samples but varying amounts and kinds of scaffolding was occurring.

  • At Kanuka the children received ‘motivation’ the day before (and this would vary from class to class).
  • At Cicada teams identified the ‘topic’ or language experience to use and then scaffolded the procedure over two days, with brainstorming and vocabulary identified collectively within classes and students able to access this during the unassisted writing sample.
  • Seagull and Juniper often allowed children to write about some personal experience with Seagull also allowing vocabulary development practice prior to the writing sample being administered (but removed during the sample).
  • Magenta used writing exemplars (conferenced) for moderation of its own writing samples (unconferenced).

Now as I say, not everyone would agree the National Standards are a problem and here’s two different kinds of reasons why you might be sceptical they are causing any damage….

To read the rest of the speech, click the link below: 

The speech is also available as a link here.

Professor Martin Thrupp’s expertise is in: Social class and education; the impact of managerialism and performativity in schools; school choice and competition; international policy borrowing; contextualised approaches to educational leadership.

For more information on Professor Thrupp’s work and publications, see here.

About Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi


2 thoughts on “National Standards and the Damage Done, by Martin Thrupp

  1. Hi there – Thanks for putting up Martin’s speech. I can’t make the links work to access the whole speech. Could you double check them please? V


    Posted by Viv Aitken | November 4, 2014, 12:35 pm

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