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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
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):
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.
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.
What did the RAINs project find about National Standards?
A number of school principals have recently been invited by NZCER to take part in national PaCT tool reading and writing trials.
Last year, NZEI and other sector groups successfully fought Government plans to make the PaCT tool mandatory from 2015, as part of the drive to embed National Standards into schooling.
After NZEI Te Riu Roa, NZ Principals’ Federation, the NZ Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools, and the Catholic Principals Association called on schools to cease any involvement in the further development of PaCT, the Minister back-tracked on her decision to make PaCT mandatory.
However, we have become aware that schools have again been approached to take part in a further round of trials beginning in June.
We strongly encourage you not to take part in these trials. The PaCT is an attempt to give credibility to dodgy National Standards and to create a “value added” modelling tool. PaCT data could be used to provide spurious data to underpin future policies aimed at ranking teacher performance against student achievement. It could also be used to make high stakes decisions about school funding, and/or to identify and review the “value added” performance of Executive Principals, Expert Teachers and Lead Teachers in the Government’s proposed $359 million “Investing in Educational Success” scheme.
NZEI recommends you meet with your boards and teachers to discuss the implications of the IES so you can work, where possible, towards a unified “whole school” approach to the initiative.
NZEI Te Riu Roa is urging all political parties to oppose the Government’s plan to make compulsory a computerised assessment system to measure student achievement.
In its latest bid to give some credibility to flawed National Standards, the Ministry of Education confirmed at a Parliamentary Select Committee this morning that the Government would make the Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT) mandatory for all students in all primary schools from 2015.
NZEI Te Riu Roa National President Judith Nowotarski says the PaCT tool would not fix dodgy and inconsistent National Standards. Instead, it would harm children’s learning and quality teaching by narrowing the curriculum, cementing in invalid National Standards’ judgements about children’s achievement and de-professionalising teachers’ expertise and knowledge of students by forcing a reliance on one assessment tool.
She says it’s also concerning that by making the tool compulsory, the Government could rank individual schools or individual teachers based on student achievement.
“The PaCT tool supports the Government’s GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) agenda of high stakes measurement, and competition instead of collegiality and individualised quality learning.
“Teachers already know how well their students are doing. What they want is the ability to share new and effective teaching strategies and to access the specialist support many children that are struggling need. The Government needs to listen to the teaching profession and work with us to focus on how to lift student achievement, particularly amongst vulnerable children, rather than impose policies that have failed overseas.”
NZEI has already urged principals and teachers not to take part in PaCT trials being run by the Ministry of Education. It welcomed unanimous support for this position by the New Zealand Principals Federation Annual Conference in Hamilton today.
Parents Opting Out
As a mother, I want to opt my child out of National Standards testing. I am not the only one.
I also intend want to refuse to have any data on my child entered into the PaCT system where it will be held by government and stored in the cloud. Given the government’s record on IT systems, I have no faith it would be safe. I also have no faith it would not be shared with agencies I disapprove of.
So, experts, where do parents stand legally on those two issues?
I would not want to put my child’s teacher in a difficult position, nor the school, so need to know exactly what my rights are.
If you can help or advise me, please comment below.
The results are used for all manner of things.
In some districts, students are forbidden to graduate school if their test scores are not high enough.
In some schools, teachers are sacked if their students’ scores are deemed too low for that year.
Why? It is leading to a “drill and kill” style of schooling where all that matters is the test.
The testing companies. They make millions. Billions.
Pearson has a five-year, US $468 million contract to create Texas maths tests alone.
Tests that have been found to have serious errors.
Meanwhile, as testing companies rack up the profits, who loses?
– Students who get a narrow curriculum that does not value an enquiring mind.
– Teachers who are sacked on very dubious grounds because of these dodgy tests results.
– The 99%, as our education system is systematically pillaged.
This is how one 14 year old A grade student felt when sitting one of these tests:
~ A 14 Year Old Speaks Out About Testing ~
“Today I have experienced one of the most confidence breaking and mind troubling obstacles in my entire life; the Algebra 1 Keystone exam for the State of Pennsylvania. When I sat down to take this standardized test, I did not know what I was getting myself into. My math teacher had been preparing us for this test, but even with all that drill and practice, my mind could not take it all in.
The first 14 questions took me over 10 minutes each when I was trying to solve the unfamiliar equations, long word problems, and words I didn’t even know how to pronounce. I was telling myself that I was going to be fine until all of the stress overwhelmed my body. I was frustrated. “I should know this,” I thought. I wasn’t even half way done when they announced that there were only 10 minutes remaining. I only completed my first set of grueling questions, and still had another set of them and 2 short answer sections containing at least 6 more questions each. I wouldn’t get help from a,b,c or d with these.
At that moment, my mind broke down. I was telling myself that I was stupid, and that these kinds of tests make me feel like I don’t know anything. After hours of work, I still had so much more. It is extremely difficult to continue concentrating at the same intense level as you did when you first started. I was sick and tired of looking at those same boring Algebra problems.
I am an A average student all around, and score advanced on PSSA’s. But I couldn’t even read the next problem without all of those discouraging thoughts spiraling in my mind. I tried telling myself to pull through, but I found myself not caring anymore, and just wanting to circle some letter. I did that for two or three questions and stopped.
I dropped my pencil on my desk, tried taking some deep breaths, and thought of ripping my booklet into shreds. I poked holes in my booklet with my pencil, and started squeezing my hands tightly as if I was going to explode. I was that angry, outraged, fuming.
I felt so incredibly frustrated that these stupid test companies don’t care what they are doing to the students of our country. All they want is the money, and the worst part is, nothing is being done to stop them. Why don’t the politicians making my generation the most over tested in history try the tests for themselves? I bet most of them would fail or do poorly. I mean, if smart, educated people don’t do well on these tests, than what do they show?
These Keystone tests are breaking kids down, making us feel dumb and not want to learn, instead of making us want to enjoy the wonders and greatness of education. I know that when most people in my grade hear the words, standardized testing, no one is jumping up and down with excitement.
I am an 8th grade student in the Lower Merion School District: a district known for their excellent education. When kids here are complaining about how difficult it is for us to take these tests, who knows what kids in struggling school districts are experiencing. Why should these tests be a graduation requirement for high school?
After my big meltdown from the frustration of not knowing how in the world to do these problems, I didn’t continue my test. I told the guidance counselor I couldn’t take it any more, and how it made me feel horrible inside. Although I kept calm on the outside, on the inside I was bomb about to explode. I was holding back my tears.
I bet many other kids felt this same way, even if it wasn’t as strongly as I felt. I will tell you one thing, I am never taking one of those tests again. No test shall ever make me feel as low and deflated as I did today. I don’t care what alternative project I have to do in exchange for the Keystone test. Let me be exempted. No one should experience what I have experienced today. Standardized testing needs to be stopped.”
By Jordyn Schwartz
Jordyn’s letter can be found here.
We are not at this stage yet in Aotearoa, thank goodness. But it’s closer than you think. In the USA it’s entrenched and the same is true of Australia… And in NZ the upcoming PaCT system – a computerised National Standards assessment tool – will bring us one step closer to this horror here.
This is why a strong coalition of principal and teacher leaders rejected the Government’s decision to make PaCT mandatory from 2015. They want to keep teaching and learning authentic.
But the Ministry is not above bullying and threatening schools to gain compliance.
Which means any resistance must come also from parents and students: Prepare to fight to protect our schools from this madness.
Kelvin Smythe has had a guts full of the Dumb Editor at The Dominion Post:
To Dumb Editor, national standards are about parents knowing ‘how their children are progressing in the three most important building blocks …’
Don’t make me laugh.
National standards and testing are not about parents knowing how their children are progressing:
- they are about making way for political and bureaucratic authoritarian control over schools;
- they are about a rapid growth of private schools for the children of the more privileged;
- they are about international corporations using education as a source of investment and profit;
- they are about using education for the neoliberal propagandising of students;
- they are about achieving wider social and economic neoliberal goals;
- and, cruelly they are about appearing to do something for less privileged children when they are actually preparing them to be part of a disposable generation.
Dumb Editor knows this and is playing dumb to disguise the real purposes of national standards and testing.
Read the rest here.
Let us frame our message correctly then act with unity
Congratulations to all concerned in bringing together nearly all the primary teacher organisations.
Now we have to frame our message correctly then act with unity.
To understand how significant this recent declaration of unity is, we need to look at the past. By looking there we will better understand our present to act more surely in the present and the future. I spoke to my friend and former NZEI president, Frank Dodd, about the matter.
What the teacher organisations have done is unique in its comprehensiveness and its focus. There was organisational unity in working with the government over the integration of Catholic schools – but that was a partnership with the government. The bulk funding issue sort of brought the organisations together in a kind of way around aims, but the unity was ragged as a result of a few right-wing principals (mainly from Auckland) undermining that sort of unity, indeed, a group of them undertook direct negotiations with Lockwood Smith taking some addle-brained principals with them. That fractiousness still remains a possibility with the present unity.
If genuine unity can be developed and maintained, it signals a huge change in the balance of power of education politics. But be warned, Hekia Parata and John Key will use a combination of the sirens and Caligula (to mix my cultural mythology). They will use seductive arguments, blandishments, and raw threats. Their attention will, in particular, be to the kind of grouping referred to, that is right-wing principals bringing along some addled-brain principals. (They are not really addled-brained just appearing to be so to avoid having to display a bit of moral courage.)
But we must frame our message correctly.
The stand is against national standards not PaCT. Teacher organisations should not be voluntarily involved in anything to do with national standards, and PaCT is national standards. This stand is not industrial action as Key has called it but moral action: we are not refusing to obey the law; we are refusing to be involved in the development of something that will be harmful to children. The stand against having anything to do with PaCT is because of our stand against national standards. And our main objection to national standards is not that they are flawed but because they are bad.
That must be the rock of our argument.
We should have nothing to do with ministry in relation to the development of national standards.
There is nothing about national standards we could learn that could possibly make any material difference.
A policy is that is harmful to children is made even more harmful in being made more efficient (not that PaCT has a snowball’s chance of being so).
There is only one message to deliver to the ministry and PaCT: national standards are bad, very bad for children. End of story.
And now to peripheral matters. Could I enumerate them?
In other words, what is being developed is a tool for national testing; a tool for results being sent to a computer in Wellington to establish its own judgements on child and teacher performance.
A strong coalition of principal and teacher leaders have rejected the Government’s decision to make a computerised National Standards assessment tool, PaCT, compulsory for every primary school student in 2015.
Cease and desist
The NZ Principals’ Federation, NZEI Te Riu Roa, the NZ Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools, and the Catholic Principals Association have called on school boards, their colleagues and the organisations developing the ‘Progress and Consistency Tool’ (PaCT) to cease any involvement in the further development of PaCT, including this year’s trials of the tool.
The Government plans to make the PaCT mandatory from 2015, claiming it will make National Standards data more reliable. This is rejected by many.
The PaCT asks teachers to judge students’ National Standards levels by working through tick boxes of illustrations representative of achievement outcomes.
The PaCT tool then generates a result for each student. Principals and teachers say making the tool mandatory will undermine teacher professionalism, reduce quality teaching for students and cement in a reliance on data from National Standards.
Introducing National Testing by the back door
‘Making PaCT compulsory will be no different from having a national test with all the negative connotations that implies. Most dangerously it assumes that every child is the same, learns the same way and can achieve the same results. Every parent knows that is a ridiculous assumption,’ say the leaders.
No Evidence Supporting Performance Pay
It also opens the floodgates for other initiatives like competitive performance pay for teachers. There is no research evidence to show that when teachers receive performance pay it helps students learn better.
Quality Education into the future
Sir Ken Robinson has spoken out about the reforms (deforms) sweeping education, pointing out that children are organic and individual, not robots to be programmed. He argues that this type of reform is taking us in the polar opposite direction of what is needed for a world-class education system that moves us into the future. You can watch one of his very amusing and informative talks here:
Sound Education Policies not Political Sideshows
‘We want our teachers focused on delivering the broad rich curriculum which keeps Kiwi kids amongst the highest achievers in a twenty-first century world. Parents don’t want them distracted by these political side-shows which follow an agenda that will never improve children’s learning or achievement but rather reduce children to “sets of data”,’ the leaders say, asserting that:
‘For the parents and children of New Zealand, we have a moral obligation to ensure nothing, including PaCT, threatens the delivery of the world class NZ Curriculum, or interferes with our children’s ability to remain in the top international achievement rankings’