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Thinking differently about education

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.

child sitting a testSo 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.

I cried.

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.

~ Dianne

#28daysofwriting

Special Assessment Conditions in NCEA – improvements to system announced

Hundreds more could get special NCEA assessment support, says the Ministry of Education.

The NZQA and the Ministry of Education are moving to ensure hundreds more students get extra help for NCEA assessments to meet their special learning needs.

“It’s important that students at all schools have access to special help if they need it at exam and internal assessment time,” says Brian Coffey, group manager of special education at the Ministry of Education.

child sitting a testThe agencies today released a review of the use of Special Assessment Conditions in NCEA. The review found lower decile schools were much less likely to apply for NCEA exam help for their students with special learning needs, and that the $400-$700 cost of an independent expert assessment was one of the major barriers. Assistance during exams can take the form of a reader and writer, technology support or extra time.

Two major changes are to be made, in time for this year’s exams.

Firstly, NZQA has redesigned an alternative application process that is free to students. The application process has been made quicker and easier to use. Applications made this way use teacher observation and assessment information rather than an independent expert’s report.

“This option hasn’t been as widely used, or as easy to use as it should be. So we’ve streamlined the process and we will urgently be reminding schools this option is available.” says Richard Thornton, deputy chief executive, qualifications, for NZQA.

Secondly, the Ministry of Education will target 250 of the country’s 518 secondary and composite schools to ensure eligible students apply for special assessment. These are schools, many of them lower decile, that are being supported by the Ministry to achieve better NCEA results.

“Our NCEA facilitators will work with these schools to help identify students who could benefit from Special Assessment Conditions for their exams and other assessments this year,” says Mr Coffey.

In 2013 nearly 4000 students were granted access to Special Assessment Conditions, 3% of students in Years 11 to 15. Hundreds of extra students are expected to get help through targeted schools, and through an easier application process.

New technology for students with special learning needs is a priority in the medium term.

“At NZQA we are trialling special headphones so that students with reading difficulties can listen to a recorded exam. If the trial is successful, special headphones will be available in 2015,” says Mr Thornton.

The Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand (DFNZ)

The Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand (DFNZ) responded to the news positively, saying the review gives credit to the recognition of dyslexia as the cause of the increased demand for SAC applications over the last few years. Furthermore, what is also clear from the comprehensive review is that where schools are addressing the needs of students that learn differently [by way of accommodations] they are achieving higher student achievement in areas of language, literacy, numeracy and overall academic achievement.

The DFNZ said the review also highlights the critical need for accommodations to be activated in the primary years, and for great transitioning between primary and secondary, and outlined these additional important things to note:

1. NZQA have extended the official SAC deadline from Fri 10th April to Friday 17th April (the last day of Term 1)

2. NZQA will allow a case by case further extension to the deadline of Monday 5th May for any schools that want to complete their application over the Term 1 holiday. The only requirement, to get the extension, is for the school to contact NZQA so that they are able to manage the anticipated increase in volume and follow up.

3. All RTLB clusters have been contacted and asked to make contact with their local secondary school to see how they can help with identification of students who may be eligible for SAC and to support schools in gathering of alternative evidence.

4. The Ministry’s NCEA advisors who are in schools can help with identification of eligible students and work with RTLB and school staff to support the alternative evidence process.

5. NZQA will meet with and provide workshops for schools, parents, or groups about the Special Assessment Conditions process on request.

Don’t forget – This Sunday, March 16 at Noon on TV3. This is when the acclaimed documentary “The Big Picture; Rethinking Dyslexia” screens.

You may wish to like the Dyslexia Foundation on Facebook to keep up with the latest news from them.

For information on this year’s Dyslexia Awareness Week (DAW) starting Sunday 16th March, see here.

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Poorer Special Needs Students Get The Least Exam Help

examEveryone wants to know why our poorest children tend to get the worst exams results?  Well here’s one more cog in the machine that grinds them down.

It was reported today that if a student wants to access special assessment conditions (SAC) funds to help with exams and assessments, such as a reader for a dyslexic student, or a separate room for someone who is easily distracted, or someone who needs to use braille, then they first need an assessment.

That sounds reasonable – it’s fair to check that the student truly needs the different conditions and the funds to pay for it.

What is NOT fair or equitable is that the initial assessment has to be paid for by the student’s parents or whanau.

No assessment – no help for that exam.

Or more to the point:  No funds – no assessment – no help.

“The Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand says the system benefits wealthy parents at private schools who have greater access compared to poor parents whose children miss out.”

Let’s look at some of the statistics of which schools got the most or least funding for SAC:

  • King’s College in Auckland (private) – 24.4 per cent of its 180 students got funding
  • Rudolf Steiner School in Christchurch (state integrated*) – 24 per cent of its 50 students got funding
  • Christchurch’s Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti (state) – 19.5 per cent of it students got  funding
  • St Andrew’s College, Christchurch (private) – 16 per cent of its pupils got funding
  • Otahuhu College (state, decile 1) – no SAC applications

That’s right.  Otahuhu had not one application for help despite having 4 times more students taking exams than nearby Kings College.

In fact the article in Stuff reports that “Nationwide, about 60 per cent of decile 1 to 3 schools made no requests for assistance for their pupils.”

Equitable System?

Just how fair is a system that relies on parents to pay for the initial assessment? How much are these assessments? Hundreds of dollars?

no money

Tell me how a family that cannot afford to heat their home can pay for that?

Yet again the have-nots get the shitty end of the stick.

And of course this will impact on students’ chances to do well at school and in exams; Without the proper assessment, they cannot get the correct support in class, let alone in exams, and they stand more chance of falling through the cracks.

Just another nail in the coffin for children of families with limited finances.

There’s a chance that would impact that long tail of under-achievement the National Party are fond of bandying around, don’t you think?

Change the System

It’s good to see that the system is being re-evaluated by the Ministry of Education, and I only hope they agree to fund assessments for those on low incomes.

Otherwise nothing changes, and the poorest are given the worst chance of success, yet again.

 

* Was previously noted as a private school, in error.  Changed 10.01 23/6/13.

Pondering the value of good test results…

recquetSo, in a world  where your main qualifications to be the Race Relations Commissioner are that you’re good at squash at know the right people, does it really matter that much how well folk do  in tests?

I’m thinking we should tell the kids to take up sport and schmoozing, and give the rest a miss.

Just a thought.

What’s All This About Finland’s Education System…?

Pasi - Finnish LessonsFor parents who wish to know.

Finland is a country with an education system that scores highly on PISA tests, but has no high stakes testing programs [e.g. NAPLAN,NCLB,NS] of its own.

It does not believe in the kinds of blanket testing carried out in GERM countries such as Australia, New Zealand, U.K. and U.S.A., all parts of the Global Education Reform Movement.

With little interest and no stake  in the outcomes, Finland offers to undertake PISA tests just for fun.

The term GERM was constructed by Pasi Sahlberg of Finland, who has a mission to share the schooling accomplishments of Finland with world educational leaders who are prepared to think about what they are doing to their children.  Australia is not included in that category; we Aussies don’t like to strain ourselves too much thinking about the things that really happen to kids at school.

Sahlberg’s book, Finnish Lessons, and his advice have been totally ignored by Australian politico-testucators and given the ‘silence treatment’ by the Australian press.  No reason has ever been provided for giving such a prestigious educator the short shift.  Anyhow, who cares?

In PISA scores, Finland is ‘up there’ with Singapore, Japan and South Korea for very different reasons.”

Read more here at The Treehorn Express

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