It’s election time again, but before choosing which Party to vote for, make sure you know what their education policies are – and pay attention to what isn’t mentioned, too.
This time we are looking at National Standards.
New Zealand Political Parties’ Policies on National Standards
“Labour will abolish national standards to return the focus to a broad and varied curriculum with the key competencies at the heart. Labour will ensure that the education system embraces and fosters essential skills and competencies such as attitude, communication, commitment, teamwork, willingness to learn, motivation, self-management, resilience and problem-solving.”
“Labour will abolish national standards and work with experts and stakeholders to develop a new system that better acknowledges child progress and focuses on the key competencies”
“Labour will scrap the current approach of measuring the success of schools by the number of students achieving national standards or NCEA, and will work with teachers, principals, parents, tertiary institutions and the Education Review Office (ERO) to develop more effective ways of evaluating the performance of schools”
“Labour will re-direct resources spent forcing “National Standards” on schools into teacher professional development programmes that assist students who are struggling”
“The Green Party will: Oppose the system of National Standards that was introduced in 2010, and remove the requirement for schools to report against them”
“The Green Party will: Work with teacher organisations to develop an assessment model or models that allow tracking of student progress against national data; to be used to inform further teaching and learning in partnership with students and their
“The Green Party will: Oppose the publication of league tables which rank schools on academic achievement.”
“New Zealand First would abolish National Standards and re-establish professional learning and development support for the quality delivery of our New Zealand Curriculum with monitoring as to children’s progress based on curriculum levels.”
“New Zealand First believes that all students need to be literate and numerate but does not believe that the black and white National Standards imposed on our primary school children are fit for purpose. Our national curriculum documents, the New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, have identified curriculum achievement levels that are progressive and overlapping – children are not expected to achieve at the same level at the same time.”
“New Zealand First will: Abolish National Standards in their current form and work with the sector to establish robust assessment measures for individual students and to identify nationwide goals for primary education.”
Mana will: “Replace National Standards with processes that help parents assess their child’s progress”
TOP will: “Reduce assessment, giving more time for teaching and learning.”
“TOP will delay National Standards until Year 6”
“National is [also] ensuring a better education through: Providing parents with better information through National Standards so they know how well their child is doing at school.”
The ACT Party’s education policy does not mention National Standards.
The Maori Party
The Maori Party’s education policy does not mention National Standards.
United Future has no education policy on its web page.
If you spot any errors or missing information relating to this post, please comment below and I will edit as quickly as possible.
Dianne Khan – SOSNZ
Saturday morning, while all sensible people were eating second breakfast and procrastinating about the weekend chores, Nikki Kaye snuck out a little education policy announcement about National Standards.
That it came out in such an understated way was made even more odd when, on Sunday, National gave us a second three-pronged education policy announcement – and this one was an all-singing, all-dancing affair with hundreds of waving, cheering National supporters in tow.
Leaving Sunday’s announcement to one side for now, I want you to ask yourself why was one single policy put out separately? Why the day before the bigger announcement? Why not include it in the main announcement? is it that bad that it has to be hidden away? Ponder that as you read on.
The policy announced on Saturday is that National will implement ‘National Standards Plus’. This will require teachers to input National Standards data into the ‘Progress and Consistency Tool’ (PaCT), a computer programme that ostensibly exists to take test results and use them to spit out a child’s attainment level against National Standards. PaCT will then, we are told, use students’ data to calculate their progress so that we can see the ‘value added’ to any student over a given time. It sounds quite sensible on the face of it. Who wouldn’t want to know how a child is progressing?
Input the data and voila!
And it might be good if it weren’t for a couple of pesky details.
First of all, if the data going in is not reliable then the data coming out isn’t either. Or as computer folk like to call it, GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out.
Problems with the unreliability of National Standards are well known. Professor Martin Thrupp outlined these issues and how they relate to PaCT in his second Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) Project report, saying:
“If the Progress and Consistency Tool [PaCT] to be made mandatory by the Government is mainly intended as a form of national moderation for [Overall Teacher Judgement] -making, then it can be expected to be an expensive failure. This is because it will not be able to address many of the various influences and pressures schools and teachers face, illustrated by this report, that will lead schools to take different ‘readings’ of the National Standards and of OTJs. “
So, issues with the reliability of National Standards data relating to students are the first key problem: GIGO.
The other elephant in the room, glaring over from the sidelines, is PaCT’s role in teacher evaluation.
The announced change in how PaCT is used will see students’ data being recorded against their teachers. Again, this seems useful at first glance. Surely, people say, that would help evaluate which teachers are doing the best job? But it’s not that simple.
One issue is that students often have a burst of learning after work by many teachers over a number of years, and to attribute that only to the teacher they are currently with would be incorrect. For example, for year 0-2 teachers, it can be quite some time before the fruits of their labours come to fruition, and to attribute all gains made, say, in Year 3 to just the Year 3 teacher would be erroneous.
So GIGO problems apply as much to PaCT data relating to teachers as to students, rendering it far too unreliable to accurately judge a teacher’s impact on a student’s learning.
Nikki Kaye assured me today via Twitter that PaCT will not be used to implement performance pay, but as one of the software engineers that built PaCT warned me almost a decade ago that the capacity for this has been built into the system, this remains a concern.
All in all, this new policy seems to be a poorly thought out move. While National Standards continue to be anything but standard, PaCT will only ever be the lipstick on the National Standards pig. In other words, you can pretty National Standards up any way you want, they are still just plain shonky.
So the question remains, what’s the real reason for National implementing progress tracking via PaCT?
Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) Project – Final Report: National Standards and the Damage Done, by Martin Thrupp & Michelle White, November 2013
The Search for Better Educational Standards – A Cautionary Tale, by Martin Thrupp, (ISBN 978-3-319-61959-0)
This is my annual reminder that whilst schools are bound by law to provide National Standards information to the Education Ministry, we as parents are not obliged to receive that information ourselves.
Here’s my 2017 letter to my child’s school (edited to remove identifying information)…
We are incredibly pleased with the education our child is getting at your School. We’re thrilled with his teacher’s work to settle him and others into their new classroom, and honestly could not speak more highly of his experiences there so far.
The School has always supported us in our wish to not receive National Standards information for our child, and I very much hope this will continue in 2017.
As in previous years, we ask that our child’s National Standards levels are not conveyed to us or to him in any way whatsoever, in writing, orally or on display in school. We accept that his National Standards data must be provided to Ministry – we are aware that schools are legally obliged to do so as outlined in NAG2a – we simply do not wish to know those levels ourselves.
We do not wish to add to the workload of our child’s teacher or any other member of staff, and are happy for any National Standards portions of his reports to be simply left blank as they have in all previous reports.
We’re happy to discuss this with you if you wish,
If you do not want to receive unreliable and unhelpful National Standards data, I suggest you join the growing resistance and opt out.
Research showing less than 16 percent of teachers think National Standards have had a positive impact on student achievement is the latest evidence that the standards are not working and should be dropped, NZEI Te Riu Roa says.
A New Zealand Council for Educational Research survey of principals and teachers showed their opinions of National Standards had dropped further over the past three years. Less than a quarter said the standards provided a good picture of student learning – down from 37% in 2013 – and only 20% said the standards helped motivate students to take on new challenges.
“This survey deals a huge blow to the credibility of National Standards and shows how dangerous it would be to use them as the basis of any future school funding system,” NZEI president Louise Green said.
“National Standards have failed to achieve the two purposes they were set up for – lifting achievement, and giving parents better information about the progress of their children.
“Its bad enough that the standards are not useful for lifting achievement, or measuring progress, they also offer little to students with additional learning needs – the very group we were told they were supposed to help.
“Teachers have tried hard to make the standards work since they were introduced seven years ago and if they were helping children learn better we’d embrace them, but they’re not.
The survey follows recent international assessment findings that New Zealand children’s scores in maths and reading had dropped since the standards had been introduced.
“If National Standards have failed to lift achievement, don’t provide good information for teachers or parents, and are demotivating for students, the obvious solution is to drop them.
“Parents deserve good quality information about their children’s progress, children deserve a modern, broad curriculum that motivates them to learn, and teachers deserve the best teaching tools. National Standards fails on all fronts,” Ms Green said.
The two charter schools operated by Villa Education Trust have achieved only 3 of their 12 student achievement targets for the 2015 year, according to analysis by Save Our Schools NZ.
According to the 2015 annual reports to the public released by the two schools, South Auckland Middle School achieved 2 of their 6 targets and Middle School West Auckland achieved only 1 of their 6 targets.
Detailed results are set out below.
2015 Contract Targets and Student Achievement Outcomes:
South Auckland Middle School
|| Outcome %
Middle School West Auckland
|| Outcome %
Held to Account for Performance?
Charter schools are supposedly going to be held to account for their performance against clearly specified performance standards set out in their contracts, including student achievement and student engagement.
In its first year of operation, South Auckland Middle School failed to meet its student engagement performance standard when it missed the required standard for stand downs, suspensions and exclusions.
But the Minister of Education still approved the release of the 1% performance retention funding retained under the contract, even though the contract wording required the school to reach all of its performance standards before such a payment could be made.
The clear underperformance in 2015 of both schools in the most important contract area, which is student achievement, should make the Minister’s decision this year clear cut.
But as charter schools are ultimately a political initiative anything can happen!
Cartoon by Emmerson – twitter.com/rodemmerson
It’s definitely worth any educator’s time to watch.
About Yong Zhao: Zhao is an expert on educational models, and has published 30 books and over 100 articles on education. His full bio is here. You can read more about his thinking here.
This talk was part of a Wellington forum that took place on 20th July 2016, sponsored by NZEI Te Riu Roa.
With David Seymour announcing today that a third charter schools application round is now open, it seems (despite previous assurances) there is no slow down in the push towards privatising New Zealand’s school system.
What is particularly interesting in Mr Seymour’s announcement is the implicit admission that up to now charter schools have indeed cost way more than state schools – a fact that has previously been denied to the hilt.
“The new model reduces establishment costs, and emphasises ‘per-student’ funding. When Partnership Schools reach maximum roll, they will receive funding broadly the same as the state school….” – David Seymour.
It’s rather embarrassing for Mr Seymour to spend a few years shouting down those of us that highlighted funding inequities, saying the figures were wrong or we were scare-mongering, only to now admit the model has had to be changed for those very reasons. Will the funding now be fairer? Will the Undersecretary and other nay-sayers be more honest and accurate in future? I’m not holding my breath.
The second interesting snippet in Mr Seymour’s press release was this:
“Partnership Schools show good progress, with achievement in reading, writing and mathematics either the same, or slightly above, that of decile 1, 2 and 3 primary schools. And, overall, NCEA achievement for Partnership Schools in Year 11 and for Level 2 in Year 12 is very high,” says Mr Seymour.
Let’s look at that in two parts, first National Standards, then NCEA.
If charter schools are sold as being better than state schools, it’s not much of a boast to say charter schools’ National Standards results are the same or only slightly above state schools. So , if we take Mr Seymour and his data at face value (and I’m not even going to go into the fact that charter schools as yet haven’t enrolled any ORS funded students with serious special needs), then charter schools are doing about as well as your average state school despite all the extra funding and freedoms. Not what you would call high praise.
Another thing to consider about the National Standards results is their reliability (in any school or sector). It is widely known that National Standards are not at all reliable. The National Standards School Sample Monitoring and Evaluation Project this year again reported that “teachers’ judgements of how well children were performing against the standards still lacked dependability”, so it is ridiculous to trumpet charter schools’ results at all, given it is completely unreliable data across the board.
Charter Schools’ NCEA Results
Now to NCEA. We are yet to get to the bottom of this data. Charter schools and the Minister have repeatedly said that charter schools have achieved great NCEA results. However, the data does not support this, and questions to the parties involved has failed to get a clear answer regarding whether the pass rate percentages are for those that finished the year or for all students that were in that year, including those that dropped out.
Given the falling rolls in some charter high schools over the school year, it is an important point. Student attrition is a common way charter schools fudge their pass rates. Certainly our own investigations have shown charter schools performing at a lower rate than the targets set and than the national average.
If 100 students start the year, but 40 leave, and the remaining 60 pass their exams, can you really claim a 100% pass rate?
There is no evidence that charter schools’ NCEA pass rates are truly higher than comparable state schools. What we do know is that charter schools are allowed to be selective with their reporting and we cannot demand raw data under the Official Information Act because they are private businesses. Because of this, charters can use statistical smoke and mirrors (aka data manipulation) to make claims that it’s impossible for parents or others to confirm or deny – a tactic well known to many US charter schools.
That’s great PR but not at all helpful in working out how well the charter school model is faring in comparison to state schools.
All in all, David Seymour’s praise of charter schools doesn’t hold water, and puts me in mind of a point Diane Ravitch once made in relation to the New York education department’s reporting on charter schools, where she pondered:
“Wouldn’t it be swell if the Department of Education actually had a research department, instead of a hyper-active public relations department?”
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
The publication of unreliable National Standards data by the Government today is an expensive distraction from the real work of boosting student success, NZEI Te Riu Roa says.
NZEI President Louise Green says the biggest issues impacting on children’s learning are poverty and inequality, and there has been little serious progress on these issues.
“The National Standards data released by the Ministry of Education today shows little change in reading, writing and maths results, but has led to teachers wasting valuable teaching time and children losing more learning time in order to meet the Government’s demand for the unreliable data, she says.
“It is even more astonishing that the Government might be considering the use of such poor quality data to determine school funding or the performance of teachers,” Louise Green says.
“Teachers and schools already know which students are under achieving and we know what we can do to help them. The big problem is a lack of resourcing, including the freeze on special education staff and insufficient funding for quality support staff, to ensure children needing the most support get it when they need it.
“New Zealand continues to spend less per student on the primary sector than the OECD average. Meanwhile recent research shows a huge impact on low decile schools of white flight, resulting in smaller schools that lose expert teachers and operational funding.”
“There is no substantive evidence that National Standards have contributed to any significant increase in children’s literacy or numeracy. It’s time to stop this experiment with our children’s learning and focus our attention on the things that will really make a difference.”
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,
Today my daughter got her Year 6 SATS results. Level 4 across the board which, my years of teaching experience tell me, is absolutely spot on for Year 6.
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”.
Beth Beynon’s letter, published on Facebook
National Stigma – two teachers speak out
National Standards Should Not Be Published, by Prof. Martin Thrupp
Dear Principal, we are opting out of National Standards
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.
So why am I all testy about testing?
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.
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
It is disappointing to see Fairfax has published a new round of National Standards data and advocacy on the Stuff website. Last year I wrote urging Fairfax not to continue with publishing the data but it seems they could not resist.
The Fairfax approach encourages comparison but National Standards are not nationally moderated. They are affected by far too many sources of variation to use for comparing the performance of schools. Children rated ‘at’ at one school will often be rated ‘below’ or ‘above’ at other schools.
The Ministry of Education is aware of this problem so it has been trialling a national online tool to bring more consistency to the National Standards judgements – the Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT).
But PaCT is only due to be introduced next year. So why would Fairfax publish the existing flawed data for all schools in a way that encourages comparison? The rows of figures may be tidy but the emperor has no clothes.
My concern about PaCT is that as it attempts to solve the moderation issue it will bring its own problems in schools and classrooms. It will be a bit like how stoats and ferrets were introduced into New Zealand to control the rabbit population.
Back to National Standards, there are many other good reasons for not giving the results any publicity. The language of the National Standards, especially the ‘below’ and ‘well below’ labels, is crude and stigmatising rather than developmental.
The National Standards approach is not a ‘value-added’ one and it tends to fail children with disadvantages. These include children with various special needs, children with English as a second language, and children from deprived backgrounds.
There are also some toxic effects of the National Standards on the culture of primary schools including curriculum narrowing and a wasteful use of precious teacher time. Ironically, it is often where teachers and schools are doing their best to take the National Standards seriously that they will be most harmful.
All in all the National Standards policy has little to recommend it. There are better alternatives to getting national information about student achievement such as an approach that samples across schools. But at the moment the public is being encouraged by Fairfax to take the National Standards seriously.
Of course some will insist that ‘at the end of the day’ we must have standards in schools. My response is that in education the cry of ‘standards’ is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I want standards, you want standards, the monkeys in the zoo surely want standards!
The point is that the Key Government’s National Standards are not just standards, they are a particular and idiosyncratic assessment system. They are also complete nonsense, at least for the comparative purposes that Fairfax is promoting.
Martin Thrupp is Professor of Education at the University of Waikato email@example.com
My research is looking into how the media discursively constructs ‘the teacher’ in Aotearoa New Zealand; specifically in mainstream media such as newspaper editorials or right-wing blogs, as against alternative media such as teacher-blogs and social media, which confer some degree of control to those represented. At the heart of this is a highly political discursive struggle to define the role of the teacher, and so more broadly, the purposes of education.
The signifier ‘quality teacher’ has become a political tool within Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) policy frameworks. The highly controversial Treasury’s Advice on Lifting Student Achievement in New Zealand: Evidence Brief (2012), stated that class sizes were less important than the quality of teaching, therefore rationalizing that the legal limit on class-sizes could be raised. The government, fortunately, was forced to back down on this. However, what has remained is the reasoned argument within the text:
- A significant proportion of New Zealand students are achieving poorly (Maori, Pasifika and low socio-economic background students)
- Within schools, teachers have the greatest influence on student learning
- The key to improving student outcomes is to ensure consistently high quality teaching for all students, in all schools
The holes in this nice simple argument have been pulled apart by Massey University’s Education Policy Response Group; namely that the evidence simply isn’t there that New Zealand’s minorities are performing badly in comparison to other OECD nations, especially considering New Zealand’s high-levels of inequality, and that “socio-economic background and prior experience of students are the main influences on learning”.
Nevertheless, the rationale has now taken a life of its own; New Zealand teachers are currently of poor-quality, and that this is impacting both the futures of minority students, and the country’s hopes of being economically prosperous down the line.
This rationale works to legitimize the policies of National Standards and Investing in Educational Success, and also future policy directions such as teacher pay and professional development to be linked more directly to National Standards data (see the New Zealand Initiative’s World Class Education?: Why New Zealand must strengthen its teaching profession).
National Standards as a policy was introduced to the public with a populist rhetoric, which was all about holding the school system and teachers to account to the taxpayer and to empower parents by facilitating their “‘voice’ and ‘choice’ in discussions about their children’s educational progress” (O’Neill, 2014). The neoliberal logic is that teachers could not possibly be motivated by professional ethics or an altruistic concern for students. In today’s ‘audit society’, in order to raise the quality of teaching, teachers must be held accountable through the audit systems of New Public Management; the three E’s of ; ‘economy’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ (Power, 1999).
This logic is prevalent within mainstream media discourse. Mike Hosking’s 2012 editorial piece National Standards hold schools to account presents a common-sense ‘we the people’ rhetorical position: we are all already held to account by data and work in high-competition environments, so why not teachers? Anyone that refuses to be held to account by numbers (equated with truth), are implicitly lazy, incompetent, and over unionized:
They also don’t like it of course because numbers tell the truth. Numbers are the facts and the facts are that in some schools, in some subjects, in some regions, things aren’t what they should be. Where once you could fill the room with enough hot air to bluster your way through it, numbers bust the myths.
One of the great lessons of life is we need to be held to account. Held to account in all areas and aspects of our lives by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. These figures start to hold our schools and the systems in which we teach our kids to account. That can be no bad thing.
The teacher in mainstream policy and media discourse, therefore, tends to be represented by two extremes (often simultaneously): potential saviour of the economy and/or lazy, incompetent and unaccountable (Taubman, 2009).
The purpose of this research therefore is to explore the potential of alternative media for teachers to take some control over their own representation, which gives them a voice often denied in neoliberalized mainstream media (Couldry, 2010). As Nick Couldry said, in these times of increasing privatization of public spaces, education and broadcasting, voice matters.
Alternative media is therefore defined as oppositional media; a voice which challenges the representations, logics and definitions of the status quo.
As well as blogs such as this one and Kelvin Smythe’s, I want to conceptualize the NZEI’s various media practices such as their website, their magazine Education Aotearoa, and their Stand Up For Kids Facebook group page as alternative media. Such spaces offer vitally important sites for alternative conceptions of what it means to be a teacher and the purposes of education itself going forward.
by Leon Salter, School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University Wellington
Couldry, N. (2010). Why voice matters : Culture and politics after neoliberalism. London: SAGE.
Education Policy Response Group. (2013). The assessment of teacher quality: An investigation into current issues in evaluating and rewarding teachers. Institute of Education, Massey University
Hosking, M. (2012, September 24). Mike’s Editorial: National Standards hold schools to account. Retrieved from http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/auckland/opinion/mikes-editorial-24sep2012
Morris, J., & Patterson, R. (2014). World Class Education?: Why New Zealand must strengthen its teaching profession The New Zealand Initiative.
O’Neill, J. (2014). Rationalising national assessment in New Zealand. International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives, 12(2).
Power, M. (1999). The audit society: Rituals of verification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Taubman, P. M. (2009). Teaching by numbers : deconstructing the discourse of standards and accountability in education. New York; London: Routledge.
The Treasury. (2012). Treasury’s Advice on Lifting Student Achievement in New Zealand: Evidence Brief.
Below 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.
One of the most profound impacts I have observed in the introduction of National Standards is the impact they have made on evidence-based teacher practice. By introducing chronologically based levels of attainment, today’s current education system has, in effect, discounted the myriad of historical and ongoing research that cannot be disputed when it comes to knowing how children learn and what works best in teaching.
Of course I wanted to understand how to teach children and how to help them make progress with their learning – but hearing about what these old guys thought back in the early part of the 20th century did not particularly seem relevant to me at the time.
As a young teacher-trainee I despaired during my lectures on Human Development and Education 101 when all we seemed to hear what theorist after theorist on how children grow….milestones….scaffolding….stages and schema. What I wanted to know was how to have kids do what I wanted them to do when I wanted them to do it……and how to call the roll and write on the whiteboard (yes it was on the cusp of ‘white’). Of course I wanted to understand how to teach children and how to help them make progress with their learning – but hearing about what these old guys thought back in the early part of the 20th century did not particularly seem relevant to me at the time.
And yet, now, years on and proficient at roll-calling and white-board writing, I draw on these theories to inform how I support teachers to best meet the individual needs of the students before them. No more now than ever have the work of Piaget, Bronfenbrenner, and Vygotsky have been so important in reassuring teachers that they do really know best when it comes to planning for, teaching and generating learning in their classrooms. Of course, there are other theorists of considerable note, but to me, these ‘founding fathers’ still have significant relevance to today’s education system.
And yet, National Standards, teaching to arbitrary levels, trying to ‘fit’ square children in round holes goes against everything that the work of these 3 theorists had accomplished prior to being implemented. Their work highlights the importance of developmental stages – that children need to work through these logically and accomplish milestones within each before they are ready to move to the next stage.
Piaget indicated these are like building blocks – with the one under supporting the one on top and so on. Vygotsky, most famously, talked of the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ – and how teachers can be best positioned to support children in their learning with this knowledge. Finally, Bronfenbrenner highlighted what we all know as teachers – the impact on the child from the multitudes of environments they live within.
So the dilemma now occurs for teachers – ignore the work of these well esteemed founding fathers, fruitlessly work against the stages of development by trying to push a child through their learning when they are simply not ready for it, and have unrealistic expectations on both the student and oneself as the teacher (we are good….but we aren’t miracle workers). Create stress for ourselves, stress for our students all with the intention to make our children ‘fit’ simply where they are not developmentally ready to…
Or, stand firm and justified that teaching practices reflective of appropriate developmental learning stages, responsive to student need and supporting children to move to the next appropriate level come with a significant amount of evidence and research supporting them. Moreover, recent brain research serves to support, not conflict with the research conducted over 50 years ago regarding how children learn best.
But we must continue to speak loudly in the face of policies that are not reflective of sound educational practice.
We must advocate for our children who are working outside of the box and will struggle, or far excel of the ‘standard’ they are expected to reach.
As teachers we know how children learn best. Yes, we can always look for new and innovative ways to support their learning and improve our practice. Yes, we should and do, strive to be the best teacher we can be in front of our students. But we must continue to speak loudly in the face of policies that are not reflective of sound educational practice. We must advocate for our children who are working outside of the box and will struggle, or far excel of the ‘standard’ they are expected to reach. We cannot beat ourselves up or lose sleep if our students, despite our very best efforts do not ‘fit’ a standard. We just cannot ignore the research of 3 old guys while working in today’s education system.
~ by Sarah Aiono
Sarah Aiono holds a B.Ed (Dip Tchg), PGd.Dip.Ed (Dist) and a Master of Education and has worked for over ten years with children exhibiting challenging behaviour. She is an Accredited Incredible Years Facilitator and Peer Coach. She is currently employed as a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour and is a Company Director for Little Ninjas Ltd, a service for parents and teachers in understanding children who work outside the ‘square’.