This talk was part of a Wellington forum that took place on 20th July 2016, sponsored by NZEI Te Riu Roa.
The letter below is from Beth Beynon, a mother in the UK, distressed at the impact of testing on her child.
Please, NZ, trust us that have seen both countries’ education systems first hand when we say NZ had it right in the first place by having in-class testing that was not made public or used to label children.
Please don’t let the already poor National Standards mutate gradually into this horror story – which it will, if we just sit by sighing and muttering but fail to stand up and be counted.
Testing should be there to inform the teacher and the student about what is learned already and where they might go next. It is a learning tool. It is not a labelling tool. Or, more accurately, it shouldn’t be.
Read the letter and consider where NZ is going:
“Dear Prime Minister,
So can you tell me why she has spent today in tears? Why she’s lying on her bed sobbing, because she knows she’s not good enough?
There’s a part of me that barely has the energy to write this. To ask you why you insist on putting 10 and 11 year olds through a system that takes nothing of child development or good pedagogy in to account, or why you put relentless pressure on schools to up their expectations, so what was once seen as good progress is suddenly a failure. But why bother? Why bore you with analogies of weighing pigs that nobody fed? You won’t listen to highly qualified education experts, or even people who, you know, actually teach. So I’m under no illusion that you will listen to me.
I do however want to tell you what is happening in my house tonight.
My funny, intelligent, artistic daughter has received a message today.
The government has told her so.
And that’s not good enough.
The fact that she has rhythm in her soul, a stunning singing voice and takes people’s breath away when she dances, the fact that she thinks about the meaning of life and loves to ponder the great questions like why are we here and what our purpose could be, or the way she cared for her dying Grandmother – painting her toe nails and singing to her, the way she puts her younger sister into her own bed because she woke with a bad dream.
These things that make the whole person that my daughter is. It’s all irrelevant.
She’s just average. And that’s not good enough. You’ve told her so.
Another one bites the dust.
Thing is Mr. Cameron, my daughter is wise to you. At eleven she has learned that SATS are just a game.
“I’ve not learnt anything this year Mummy,” she told me during the harrowing and stressful weeks leading up to the SATS “Just how to pass some stupid test for the stupid government”.
From the mouths of babes, Mr. Cameron, from the mouths of babes.
And so here we are. Your SATS results are in. You can number crunch to your heart’s content. You can order schools from best to worst, rank them, categorise them and make them work for you. Numbers are clever , aren’t they? Look what they did for bringing all those children out of poverty! Clever old you.
And meanwhile my daughter will go to sleep tonight despising a government that has squandered a year of her education so they can tell her she’s no more than average. And that it’s not good enough.
Oh, one more thing. She brought home her Grade Three ballet certificate today. She got a distinction.
But I don’t suppose you’re the slightest bit interested in that.
~ Beth Beynon
This is what happens when testing is done for political rather than educational reasons.
No-one in their right mind wants a testing regime that leads to so many distressed children who are doing perfectly well but now believe themselves to be ‘less than’.
As teachers, we must think seriously about what we are being complicit in, and we must ask ourselves when we are going to say “Enough”.
American students face a ridiculous amount of testing.
American teachers face ridiculous formulae using test scores to determine their pay.
Certain companies benefit hugely from this set-up.
Welcome to the global education reform movement – GERM.
Here, John Oliver explains how standardized tests impact school funding, the achievement gap, how often kids are expected to throw up. Enjoy.
Pearson executives work hard to justify the company’s actions and frame their motives as some sort of kindness – almost a humanitarian effort. The trouble is, more and more people are convinced they are in it only for the money.
Pearson’s tagline “Always Learning” has been co-opted by those unhappy with its reach, to say “Always Earning” – understandable when the company is taking over everything from text books, to tests, to teacher certification and now owning its own schools. Its tentacles go far and wide, like a leviathan.
Yesterday SOSNZ took part in a Twitterstorm focused on Pearson Plc’s dubious behaviour around education. The protest was timed to coincide with Pearson’s AGM in London, and I was honoured to represent NZ alongside the UK and USA is spreading the word about the company’s behaviour.
At the AGM, Pearson executives had to face questions about the company’s behaviour in promoting and running for-profit schools in some of the poorest places on earth, where the daily rate to attend can be as much as half of a family’s income. As if charging such a high rate of such poor people was not bad enough, the lessons are on tablets and must be read word-for-word by the teacher at a pace set by the app not the teacher (tough if you have a question or need to pause for any good reason). All this to classrooms crammed with 60-200 children.
A joint letter from National Union of Teachers (NUT), Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and Global Justice Now, delivered to the Pearson CEO John Fallon at the AGM, read:
“From fuelling the obsessive testing regimes that are the backbone of the “test and punish” efforts in the global north, to supporting the predatory, “low-fee” for-profit private schools in the global south, Pearson’s brand has become synonymous with profiteering and the destruction of public education.”
The USA’s voice was also heard:
“We fight this kind of profit making to get kids a good education and fight for governments which gives students a high quality education.”
said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who had flown to London to attend the AGM and be heard.
As well as pushing privatised schooling, there have been many and repeated concerns about the role of Pearson’s in promoting high stakes testing, notably in the USA. Concerns have centred around the quality of the tests, the secrecy around them, the fact that markers are found via Craigslist and need have no educational training, and the scandal of Pearson monitoring students’ online activity for mention of the tests,
It’s shocked many to discover Pearson are not beyond tracking down a student and reporting them to the school authorities to deal with – all for Tweeting about a test. The fact that they misrepresented the student’s actions by getting the timing and the content of the Tweet wrong is of huge concern. A multinational company chasing down one student all based on incorrect information. Big Brother would be proud.
Regarding Pearson’s infiltration of all things education, Schools Week UK reports that ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said
“School curricula should not be patented and charged for. Tests should not distort what is taught and how it is assessed.
“Unfortunately, as the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world, these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged children and young people.”
Indeed. When the education ship is being steered by those concerned mainly with profit, it is seriously off course and in danger of sinking, taking our children’s education with it.
Sources and further reading:
Everybody hates Pearson – Fortune
I think this analogy to capitalism pretty much applies to education, too.
Student A is given a healthy home, good food, adequate medical care, a computer, internet access, books galore from birth, educational games, trips, plenty of discussion and questioning with adults, educational TV programmes, museum visits, art gallery visits, pencils, paper, felts, toys that encourage creativity and experimentation, and more.
Student B has poor housing, inadequate health care, few if any books, few if any educational toys, few if any educational visits, little if any discussion and questioning with adults, non-educational TV programmes, few if any visits to museums or galleries, and little chance to explore, create and experiment.
Student B usually loses the testing and exam race compared with Student A.
At which point student B and his teachers are deemed to have been lazy. Or useless. Or both.
At this point, those in Student A’s world push for more tests. Tests that their companies will benefit from but which do nothing to help the student B.
And the cycle continues.
Rigged game, much?
Sydney Smoot, a U.S. fourth grader, shared her concerns on testing in schools with members of the Hernando County School Board at their regular meeting on March 17, 2015. She explained all that is wrong with the system she and others have been forced into, and she does it well.
Watch her speak truth to power…
Well done, Sydney – you are an inspiration.
There are many reasons teachers fight standardised testing: they are not a good use of learning time, they lead to teaching to the test, results are not always reliable, and they cost a fortune.
But even beyond that, the craziness of the whole standardised testing system can be no better explained than by Bob Braun’s latest blog post about the Pearson company’s dubious behaviour.
Bob considers Pearson’s insistence that in monitoring students’ online activity it is working only in the interests of test security (i.e. to prevent cheating), and he shares this with us. But is that the full picture, asks Bob?
“Here is what the State of New Jersey and Pearson agreed encompassed the idea of security and its possible breach–it’s codified in the testing manual developed by the state and sent out to all the districts:
“Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication.””
Let me run that by you again… students are not even allowed to talk about a test afterwards. To anyone.
“How did the test go, dear?”
“I can’t tell you, mum, or I’ll have Pearson contacting the Department of Education to send the principal down here”
“But did it go okay, dear?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny the test went okay, mum, please stop asking”
“Do you think you passed?”
“MUM! Are you trying to get me suspended? … I’m taking the fifth.”
Read more over at Bob Braun’s Ledger.
Kiwis, thank your lucky stars we do not have this madness here … and please help us keep it that way by supporting teachers,unions and fighting the monstrosity that is the TPPA.
Trying to get to the bottom of what, if anything, students sign to promise non-disclosure of Pearson’s exam content, I was pointed towards this form…
I have so many questions, such as does a parent signing this legally bind their child to the agreement? And what if a parent is not able to read and comprehend that contract? Do parents really understand fully what they are signing? Does every student/parent get a copy of the PTE Test Taker handbook to peruse? … and so on.
But what I want to ask most of all is this…
And who ensures that data is safe?
What we know so far:
Pearson monitors students’ and others’ social media for mention of Pearson, its tests, etc.
It then finds a student has Tweeted about a PARCC test they had just completed.
The Tweet didn’t have a photo of the test.
The student had not signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Pearson work out what school the student goes to.
Pearson alert the education department about the ‘priority 1 item breach’, asking it to be dealt with.
The education department contact the testing coordinator at the student’s school.
The information passed on says the Tweet was done during the test and had a photo attached: It did not.
The student was contacted and deleted the Tweet.
The student’s parent was talked to.
The parent was very concerned to find their child’s social media had been monitored this way.
Bob Braun wrote a piece about the affair.
Bob’s blog suffers a Denial of Service (DoS) attack by unknown hacktivist/s.
People discuss Pearson’s use of Tracx to “monitor and listen” to what people are saying about them on social media.
Tracx gets their Pearson page taken down.
Pearson put out a press release saying they behaved perfectly responsibly….
Sources and further reading:
Tracx and Pearson (This is a cached copy, in case it’s still down)
Bob Braun on Twitter
Bob Braun on Facebook
There’s a growing outrage after reports today that Pearson Publishing have been spying on students. It is also reported that Pearson is working with some US education departments to censure students who have discussed tests on social media after taking them. Pearson apparently likes to call this ‘listening and monitoring‘.
I have some questions:
No doubt more will unfold on this.
US parents, if your child is harassed regarding test-taking, opting out, or anything relating to tests, you may wish to file a civil rights complaint.
Kiwi parents and teachers, if you are are thinking this doesn’t affect you, remember two things:
* all Kiwi kids have a National Student Number from the day they enter the education system, and
* the TPPA will allow companies to sue countries that they feel infringe on their trade…
Welcome to the loony world of Education Reform.
He looked at me with a crumpled face and mumbled “I can’t read it.” There was a moment of nothingness, both of us trying not to cry. I swallowed hard. “I know, sweetie,” I said, and I rubbed the back of his hand in a bid to convey how I felt, to tell him I understood what was swarming around him. Around us both.
“I can’t make it so you don’t take the test,” I told him. I didn’t tell him I’d tried and been turned down. I couldn’t. Instead, I explained that it was my job to help him be able to sit those tests and do his best, be proud of himself, and stay happy. That I’d do my best to make sure we achieved that, and he shouldn’t worry, because we were an awesome team and we could do it.
I didn’t tell him that what I was doing had little to no educational value.
I didn’t tell him that the other kids would all do fine but he would fail the test.
I didn’t tell him that he was being treated disgracefully.
But he knew.
So we spent the next few weeks out of the class, me, him, and a few other strugglers learning what I called “exam technique” but what really was how to survive testing without losing your marbles, your confidence and all belief in yourself.
I taught him how to scan for key words that he recognised and then guess what the question might be. I taught him that it was worth circling (a) (b) (c) or (d) even when he had no clue what he was answering. I taught him that it was okay to put his pencil down when it all felt too much.
And I taught him that being dyslexic was not a personal failing. I told him that kindness, perseverance, hard work, and honesty were brilliant qualities to have. I told him he would find his place in the world. I explained that these tests didn’t define his worth.
So the test came and went, and he didn’t cry or get stressed or panic. He remembered the strategies and gave every test his all.
Of course, he failed. At least according to the tests, anyway.
To me he was a hero.
At the final assembly before he and his classmates went to ‘big school’, each student had to say what they were looking forward to at the new school and what they had enjoyed at their current school. He said he was looking forward to learning to read and his favourite thing about his time at this school was me.
His teacher laughed.
The class’s test results were very good, overall. The teacher became a deputy head teacher the following year on the back of those great results. Great test results mean a great teacher, apparently.
Cam and I think differently.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good test. Especially the PROBE reading test – all those quirky squiggles we have to do, not too erroneous for the student, and bingo, a reading age and pointers towards strengths and weaknesses. Hurrah.
Same with maths – administer a test or two and lo and behold you have the student’s maths stage.
And in New Zealand primary schools we are still very lucky to be able to test one on one with our students in a relaxed way. We can discuss their test and their results right there and, should we wish, set to work on the goals immediately. It’s very useful.
I’m not so keen on the National Standards bit, but the tests themselves if done sensibly and well are actually really helpful.
I’ll tell you why: Because politicians worldwide have gone test-crazy and it has not a jot to do with improving education.
Nicky Morgan, UK Education Secretary, yesterday announced a “war” on illiteracy and innumeracy. Yes, a war. Because apparently teachers aren’t trying to teach these things anyway, despite the many hurdles, so it needs threats and a war cry to get anything done…
Or, it could be that there’s an election looming and she’s talking through her hat. There’s always that.
Either way, Ms Morgan has found a magical and ingenious way to change the fate of these illiterate and innumerate kids! Are you ready for this – you need to be seated (possibly with Rescue Remedy to hand, or wine) …. Ms Morgan insists that by age 11 all children must get 100% in a times tables test.
No wiggle room.
Yep, time tables will solve everything apparently, but only if every kid gets every single one right.
Special needs student? Learning in another language? Battered? Hungry? Disengaged? Drugged up? Got dyscalculia? Tough, it’s 100% or you’ve failed. Well, way to go, Ms Morgan, you clearly know something about pedagogy and about learning that escaped Piaget, Ken Robinson and most of the teaching profession.
I should mention at this point that Ms Morgan couldn’t answer the cube root of 125 when asked recently, and today refused to answer basic multiplication questions posed by journalists. Hmmm… was it that tricky 7×8 that got her, I wonder?
And if the students in a school don’t ALL get 100%, what then? Well then the school will be forcibly turned into an Academy, of course – yes, you guessed it, if in doubt, privatise.
All this despite Academies in England getting terrible exam results compared with non-Academy schools.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Almost like the test is set impossibly high to facilitate forced privatisation… Gasp!
And then we have the USA.
You know education reforms have gone cloud cuckoo land when 6 year olds are being given standardised tests sat in rows at computers, having to manage the computer, the mouse, follow the written instructions and all in silence. No one-on-one friendly teacher testing in a calm way for these kids – or teachers.
And then the results are sent off to a testing company. They aren’t there to discuss or to inform the student or teacher about strengths or weaknesses. How can that possibly be considered a good way to run an education system?
And if you don’t think that’s bad enough, consider the special educational needs students and ill students forced to take these tests. Or the dying student. Yes, you read that right:
Last year, Ethan, who was born with brain damage, has cerebral palsy and is blind, was forced to take a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test over the space of two weeks last year because the state of Florida required that every student take one.
Now his mom has to prove that Ethan, now in a morphine coma, is in no condition to take another test this year.
And Ethan’s not the only one:
“Fourth-grader Joey Furlong was lying on a hospital bed, hooked up to various monitors for pre-brain surgery screening, when a teacher waltzed through the door holding a New York State standardized test”
Or the 6 year old US kindy student who was:
“…denied a bathroom break in her kindergarten class and was forced to sit in her diarrhea during a test session at school.”
Yes, the global education reforms march steadily on, creating a crisis via rhetoric and ridiculous tests so they can justify privatising schools. And all the time there are children, parents and teachers in the mix who are being very badly served and who are fighting tooth and nail for some sense to come to the plate.
Is in any wonder I’m feeling testy.
More and more parents are opting their children out of state-wide testing in the USA.
Well done, Natalie’s dad – I like your style.
Thank you to Natalie for permission to use this image.
Your choice – actively work to change the direction of these reforms or accept that you are as much to blame as the reformers.
This from HuffingtonPost:
As I watch the education “debate” … I wonder if we have simply lost our minds.
In the cacophony of reform chatter — online programs, charter schools … testing, more testing, accountability … value-added assessments, blaming teachers … blaming unions, blaming parents — one can barely hear the children crying out: “Pay attention to us!”
None of the things on the partial list above will have the slightest effect on the so-called achievement gap or the supposed decline in [our] international education rankings. Every bit of education reform — every think tank remedy proposed by wet-behind-the-ears MBAs, every piece of legislation, every one of these things — is an excuse to continue the unconscionable neglect of our children.
As Pogo wisely noted, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We did this to our children and our schools.
We did this by choosing to see schools as instructional factories, beginning in the early 20th century.
We did this by swallowing the obscene notion that schools and colleges are businesses and children are consumers.
We did this by believing in the infallibility of free enterprise, by pretending [our country] is a meritocracy, and by ignoring the pernicious effects of unrelenting racism.
We did this by believing that children are widgets and economy of scale is both possible and desirable.
We did this by acting as though reality and the digital representation of reality are the same thing.
We did this by demeaning the teaching profession.
We did this by allowing poverty and despair to shatter families.
We did this by blaming these families for the poverty and despair we inflicted on them.
We did this by allowing school buildings to deteriorate, by removing the most enlivening parts of the school day, by feeding our children junk food.
We did this by failing to properly fund schools…
We did this by handcuffing teachers with idiotic policies, constant test preparation and professional insecurity.
[The] children need our attention, not Pearson’s lousy tests or charter schools’ colorful banners and cute little uniforms that make kids look like management trainees.
[Our] teachers need our support, our admiration, and the freedom to teach and love children.
The truth is that our children need our attention, not political platitudes and more TED talks.
Read the rest of the article here.
The article below is about the saddest thing I have ever read about education, and fits exactly what I saw starting before I left the UK to come to New Zealand. Sadly, this government is following the UK with this madness, and this horror is now here too. I am devastated. This is a shameful shadow of education and in years to come will be reflected on as a period of utter and total disgrace.
Secret Teacher, writes in The Guardian (UK):
When I began teaching I worked in early years. Back then, personal, social and emotional development was factored into every aspect of the curriculum. It was understood that to become a successful learner you needed to develop a love of learning and feel secure in your abilities to overcome challenges.
I remember rejoicing the first time a painfully shy child answered their name in the register and when another proudly taught the class to say hello in their home language. But these normal everyday achievements did not happen by magic; the children only achieved these things because they felt secure in their school environment and the right opportunities were available to them.
Roll on a few years and I recently found myself teaching key stage 1 in a new school rated good, and aiming for outstanding. But in this quest, levels and targets have become more important than anything – more important than the children, it seemed.
One Autumn morning I was summoned to the assistant headteacher’s office for the first round of target setting for the year. I was asked to predict the levels my year 1 class would get in their year 2 Sats. I should mention that 70% of my class arrived in year 1 below the expected reading age, which posed a problem; my literacy levels did not meet the targets and could not be submitted to the borough. Apparently, my predictions were “not ambitious enough” and were up levelled. The new targets were accompanied by a speech making the pressure of these expectations clear.
As a new member of staff, I was interested to see what approach the school would take to ensure the levels were met. Their preferred method was manipulation, making sure no one had access to enough information for a full picture. Parents were held at arm’s length and assistant headteachers were present in all formal meetings to monitor what information was shared and how. If a teacher was seen talking to a parent for too long in the playground, an assistant head would appear and join the conversation. Nothing quite says you’re not trusted like being watched constantly.
In one meeting I was horrified to witness just how far they were willing to push the pursuit of targets at the expense of the children. My year group included four children that were in the learning support centre. Although they weren’t taught in mainstream classes, they were included in our all-important levels, which unfortunately meant our “quota” of children not at expected levels had already been accounted for.
One child who came under particular scrutiny had been a “problem” in reception. He fidgeted and struggled to manage his behaviour in certain circumstances. Compared to other children I had taught, he had minor behaviour needs, but he was behind academically. With a little bit of nurturing he was improving – the other children were not being affected by him and he was making academic progress. Even so, I was told to put pressure on his parent to take him elsewhere. At the sight of my horrified expression this softened to nudging them gently. Officially, the reason given was behaviour, but I have no doubt that unofficially levels and the extra time he required were the biggest factors in this decision.
When I didn’t follow orders, meetings began taking place that I was not invited to or informed of. I have no idea what the parent was told, but several secret meetings later they must have got the message and made the decision to move him to another school.
Read the rest here.
Food for Thought:
The comments below the article are food for thought. Below are some of the ones that stood out for me.
“This problem is now worsening due to the pressure being put on us by unrealistic performance management targets. If we don’t get the children to a certain place by the end of the year, we now don’t move up the pay scale. Horrid.”
“You aptly sum up why I, with deep regret, turned my back on headship. Loved the job but the conflict between doing what was morally right and what was demanded politically had moved beyond an uneasy compromise and into the territory of being expected to sell one’s soul.”
” This target driven culture comes directly from the DfE (past and present) and is enforced with an iron fist by Ofsted. If a school fails to meet targets it gets taken over, the head will be sacked as may be many other teachers. The only people willing to become heads and deputies now a days are those who are willing to play this game and whose ambition (and often limited talent) drives them to fiddle figures, bully and coerce others into making often impossible targets.”
“It’s obvious that the education system is broken to varying degrees across the country and in many schools. I have seen the type of behaviour, described by the secret teacher, towards children who ‘won’t make the grade’ happening more and more as the performance management has been directly linked with pay rises or lack of them, and the need for more and more children to make targets that are at best challenging but for many completely impossible. Those teachers who don’t get their quota of children to the grades required are not just not getting pay award but also in danger of the competency procedure. It’s a very very sad and bleak world for those children who for one reason or another cannot/ or will not make the expected grades and gain the results schools need to keep ofsted et al off their backs.”
And the last word goes to this commentator, who I think speaks for so many of us when they say “This is just terrible. It’s not what we went into education to do.”