Hekia Parata, quoted in stuff.co.nz, Monday 17 November 2014:
“The profession and academics of New Zealand determined that those were the right steps to be taken in each progression through our education system,” Parata said.
Well, Hekia, some of us beg to differ. National Standards has always been a highly contentious policy. But there is no excuse for anyone making statements about the system that are simply not true.
We need to ensure that historical fact is recorded and is not distorted by contemporary political spin.
Many parents, media and commentators might assume that the National Standards were set correctly and were properly tested.
But those of us involved in the debate over time know that there are several issues around the construct of the Standards that have never been resolved.
Let’s check the history:
•The Standards were developed by two small teams of developers (one wrote the Reading and Writing Standards and the other wrote the Maths Standards);
• These people were chosen by the Ministry of Education and mainly included external contractors;
• The Standards were written in a very short period of time in the first half of 2009;
• A brief “consultation” period ran from May to July 2009, during which three draft Standards were available for consideration by the teaching profession and the public;
• The full set of 24 Standards (Reading , Writing and Maths across 8 ages and year levels) was released at the official launch by John Key, in October 2009.
But was the teaching profession involved in the process of setting the Standards?
Frances Nelson, President of NZEI, certainly didn’t think so:
“Not only have the Standards been developed under a cloak of secrecy, the small number of practitioners who were invited into the “inner circle” were – apparently – required to leave all material in the room and sign confidentiality agreements to ensure they didn’t go back and share what they’d been doing with other colleagues, board members or parents!”
Frances Nelson op-ed, Dominion Post, December 2009
Nelson had responded to an op-ed published earlier by the Minister of Education, Anne Tolley:
“There will be no concessions, there will be no trial period. Parents want national standards and they are going to get them from next year. There will be constant evaluation, the tenders are just being let, and if adjustments need to be made, then that will happen.”
Anne Tolley op-ed, Dominion Post, November 2009
To this day, the Standards themselves have never been tested in any trial of any kind.
People forget that the 2010 nationwide petition, organised by NZEI and known as “Hands Up For Learning”, did not call for outright opposition to National Standards but rather for them to be trialled:
“The petition of William Michael Courtney, requesting that the House of Representatives note that 37,617 people have signed a petition requesting that National Standards be trialled in our schools before being introduced nationally.”
Petition no. 2008/90 tabled in the House by the Hon Trevor Mallard, 28 June 2010
The government-commissioned evaluation of the National Standards system did not make any significant recommendations and no “adjustments” of any sort have been made to the Standards.
So, any flaws in the construct of the original Standards have remained.
And what did the academics think?
Professor John Hattie, a leading supporter of the concept of National Standards, was critical of this set of Standards when they were released:
“The success of national standards will be related to the quality and dependability of the standards. The current approach of developing standards by committee is not good enough.
The glossy, recently published New Zealand literacy and numeracy standards have no data, no evidence, and no evaluation – they are pronouncements without evidence. If there is evidence outside committee contemplations, where is it? Until there is evidence, the standards remain untested and experimental.”
Hattie: Horizons and Whirlpools, November 2009
The Parliamentary Library prepared a research paper on National Standards in June 2010. Here is an extract from the section “Speed of design and implementation”:
“The lack of a trial period or testing of the Standards has caused concern. Education sector groups and academics sought a phased introduction of the Standards, as opposed to full implementation in schools during 2010. Concern has also been expressed that with no trial of the Standards, there has been no opportunity to establish whether they have been set at the correct level, or to see how they relate to actual patterns of student progression over time. Not all students follow the same developmental trajectory to get to the same level of performance over time.”
Parliamentary Library Research Paper, National Standards, June 2010
One of the most concerning aspects of the system is the lack of evidence underpinning the Standards and the “One Size Fits All” trajectory they assume. This is important, as in standards-based assessment, achievement is defined as being “in relation to the standard”, as opposed to norm-referenced assessment, for example, which shows student achievement in relation to a student’s peer group.
So it is important for parents and commentators to understand that if there are concerns about the level at which the Standards are set, and how appropriate they are to individual student achievement and progress, then there must be real doubt about the validity of any assessment results arising from using such a system.
~ by Bill Courtney, SOSNZ