“Dumbing down a generation”. That’s the challenging title of an excellent piece by Simon Collins in the weekend Herald:
Dumbing down a generation: Performance of NZ schoolchildren plummeting
International tests reveal the performance of our schoolchildren is plummeting despite years of education reform designed to create brighter futures for the next generation. …
When Elley chaired the international steering committee for one of the first world literacy surveys, in 1990, Kiwi students came fourth.
A decade later, when the Programme for International Students Assessment (Pisa) started testing 15-year-olds, NZ students came second only to Finland in reading, third in maths, and sixth-equal in science.
But it has been downhill ever since. In six three-yearly Pisa surveys, the most recent (2015) reported last December, each group of NZ students has scored lower than the group that went before them in both reading and maths.
Over Pisa’s 15-year history New Zealand’s average score for maths has dropped by more than any other country (down 42 points), closely followed by Australia (down 39 points).
Our average for reading has dropped by 20 points, a steeper fall than in all except three countries (Britain, Australia and Iceland).
Even in science, where we have had ups as well as downs, our average is down 15 points since 2000, although eight other countries including Australia declined more. …
It’s a long piece, full of information, well worth a read. In general the graphs show a fall to 2003, level to 2009, and falling again since (tests are every three years). We have to ask ourselves why NZ’s educational scores in international comparisons are locked in a downward spiral.
There is some suggestion in the piece that the problem is streaming. (I personally doubt it, schools were streamed for decades and NZ did all right.) More significant, however:
In our case, the two biggest changes since Pisa started have been the introduction of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in secondary schools from 2002, and of National Standards in primary schools from 2010.
Elley points to declining Pisa scores in all five OECD nations that have standards-based assessments with “high stakes”, with results published in league tables: New Zealand, Australia, Britain, the United States and Sweden.
“The majority of OECD countries don’t allow league tables,” he says.
Both NCEA and national standards were born with good intentions – to close our shamefully wide gaps by focusing schools on ensuring that every child achieves the standards.
But Elley believes they have actually dragged most students down. …
Read on for the problems. Those relating to national “standards” at least have been frequently raised, and those relating to NCEA need to be seriously considered at the least.
Changes in teacher training may also be a factor, along with the increasing stress and workload that under-resourced teachers are under, and the increasing difficulty in attracting teachers (especially in Auckland where a teacher’s salary is increasingly unlivable). Then there’s the problems created for families by the housing / rental crisis, where frequent moves disrupt education.
If we were actually interested in educational outcomes as a country, if we believed in evidence based policy, if Bill English was actually serious about “social investment”, we would be modelling our education system on what actually works (etc, etc). But no, instead we get National’s failed ideology.