Standards – Part Two

As it turns out, that image of parents and children at a dinner table is a powerful one if you want an indicator of success in education.  If the image exists in reality that kid will probably do ok at school, if it doesn’t… well, there is cause for concern.

Don’t let anyone tell you that standardised tests are not accurate measures.  The truth of the matter is they offer a remarkably precise method for guaging where kids live.

Alfie Kohn

Here is what the National Standard will show: it will prove that decile one schools have more new entrants below the line than decile ten schools, and that this remains the same as time goes on.  We know this already.  The NEMP have done a twelve year study to find the key factor that determines a students’ ability to do well in tests.  Unsurprisingly that factor is socio-economic background.  Presumably what we are then looking at is progress, and presumably most of the looking will be directed at low decile schools.  It’s this bit that’s worrying because we don’t know what action will follow the appraisal of results at head office.  We can’t be saying that teachers at high decile schools are better, and that we don’t need to appraise them, or put them under pressure – that would be idiotic.  The ERO report summarising teacher performance concluded that 90% were adequate or better.

Why are we doing all of this anyway:

The National-led Government is determined to improve education standards.

It’s good to see the government setting itself such a tough goal:

  • NZ Maths literacy – 5 countries higher
  • NZ Reading literacy – 3 countries higher
  • NZ Science literacy – 2 countries higher

As many as one in five Kiwi children are leaving school without the basic literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed. 

Not one in five in Khandallah I’m picking. 

It appears however that countries in the OECD with cultural diversity all have a long tail, and that countries that have infamously tried National Standards (UK, USA) are still behind us.  Our lowest performing group is this big compared to other countries:

  • NZ 14% in Maths (21% OECD average)
  • NZ 15% in Reading (20% OECD average)
  • NZ 14% in Science (19% OECD average)

The OECD report on education in New Zealand concludes (after noting we are the fourth best in the world for educational achievement):

New Zealand should spend considerably more on younger, disadvantaged children.

The Government expects teachers and principals to take action when children are not reaching National Standards.

So when the data says school X has lots of kids below the expected literacy level what happens next?  This is what I would really like to know, and this is what people should be asking Key and Tolley because this is the bit that counts.  I suspect that Key and Tolley won’t want to hear that the school with the low results exists in an area where there is more poverty, more illiterate parents, and a culture against reading and writing, or even against school as an institution.  To combat these things a well-funded literacy programme is not really enough, because the problems that I listed above are problems that are outside the classroom and come into it.

But this is an excuse.  Apparently.  There is a movement abroad called “no excuses” schools.  It’s in Britain, it’s in America, and I suspect Key will be telling us in a couple of years to stop making excuses.

If we go down this path of using the National Standard to threaten schools, then we will certainly see a turning away from the New Zealand Curriculum, and a turning towards teaching to the National Standards test.

Here is what I surmise to be National’s plan:

  • National will extend the National Standard test to Year 9 and 10.  It doesn’t make sense to test people from Year 1 to Year 8, and then stop for the two years just before NCEA. 
  • National will be relaxed about newspapers publishing league tables of results, and these results will be published with the “worst” schools identified, and questions about “what will be done for/to these schools.”
  • National will talk about extra money for literacy programmes at these schools.
  • National will then “relax” zoning laws around schools to give parents “choice”.  They will use these exact two words because they both sound reassuring.  This relaxation will allow students to apply more readily for schools out of their zone, and those out of zone schools will be able to hand pick the students they want (based on National Standard results, or NCEA, or sports achievements) and reject the rest. 
  • Many of the best of the students from the so-called bad schools will move out, and bad schools will achieve even worse results.  When schools complain National will tell teachers to stop making excuses and point to the money it has spent on literacy programmes. 
  • The schools in desperation will start going down a very rigid line of preparing their students to pass an arbitrary test so that they can get better results. 

Let me say that I believe relaxing zoning laws discriminates against the poor.  If you are poor you go to the local school, you do not pay for a monthly bus pass for your one or  two or three kids to get to the next school. 

I can’t see anyone adopting Heather Roy’s weird idea about students being able to go to specialised learning centres (privately run, presumably) that would help the gifted and the strugglers, but it is convenient to have ACT around to say these crazy things and then have National bring in something far more “reasonable”.



After we are given the boy in Year 9 whose parents are illiterate, and we put him into the special class that has two teachers in it at all times (one focussed on literacy and numeracy), and we get him a teacher aide, and he goes on a reading programme, after we do all that he starts wagging, and acting like an idiot because let’s face it: if you’re basically illiterate high school is a very unpleasant place to be no matter how much help you get.  Whatever, because I am his dean I call home and try and get some parent involvement but the parents repeatedly “forget” to come to the meetings we set up, and then I realise they are illiterate too and probably terrified of school.  Eventually the boy stops coming to school and we send the truancy officer around.  The truancy officer discovers that the parents have done a runner and the boy is home alone, and that it’s not much of a home.

The boy has an older sister.  She has the same problems and the same circumstances but she tries REALLY hard.  After slogging through two years with her I got her to write a fairly decent paragraph for her Social Studies test.  I was SO PROUD OF HER.  I could have cried when I read her paragraph.  But if you look at it honestly, it’s not much of a paragraph, there are errors everywhere, and I understand parts of it only because I taught it.  I don’t think it would pass a National Standard for writing at Year 10.  Or Year 9.  Probably it would fail at Year 7.  Nevertheless, this is what I have to show you Mr. Key: a lovely girl, who has worked hard, and made something out of language, something a bit faulty and broken, but something.  I will not make an excuse.  If there had been a test for the boy and the girl then I did not raise them to the level.  Not even with extra funding and extra reading and extra teachers.

I failed.

But if I am allowed one little excuse, I will say that a lot of other things failed first.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

11 thoughts on “Standards – Part Two”

  1. Thanks. Although the debate has been around for a few months I think slowly, and I only really came to grips with the implications of National Standards recently. It is the “what comes next?” aspect of National Standards that has me anxious.

  2. I shared this post and its predecessor on Facebook and got the following responses from friends:

    “Thanks for sharing them, it was really useful to get a secondary teacher’s perspective.”

    “Well done, Man of Errors! Many problems with National Standards, but the question of what help is to be given to those who fail has not been addressed. And the whole idea of judging teachers by the results of their pupils is so silly. Almost anyone can get a bright, keen child from a half-way functioning family successfully through exams, but some of my best work was done in getting the less able to almost make it.”

    “Awesome read, thanks heaps for sharing.” [This friend also linked to the posts on her Tumblr pages.]

  3. I would vote for you if you ran OR walked for parliament Richard. I would only vote for John Paul if he ran though

  4. And I think that Fflur was asking ME to run for parliament, though these days I’d rather walk.

  5. Richard (of RBB) – Reading between the lines of Nicola’s comment I think she is clearly referring to you.

    Fflur – I would do it for the ministerial credit card, and free Sky.

  6. Can you run for parliment please? I will vote for you – you will be the only one there making sense

  7. I think you have expressed it very accurately. I also think that National Standards are a very frightening prospect combined with a very hidden agenda from those whose came up with the plan. A very wise person I know made the comment that we shouldn’t implement National Standards until we addressed all the issues that create the inequalities that influence such vast results in children of the same age.

    I’m not exaggerating when I say that National Standards really scare me.

  8. I feel like I’m beginning to understand what National Standards are. These have been an excellent couple of posts.

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