Listening to the evidence on national standards

Written By: - Date published: 7:37 am, March 5th, 2010 - 11 comments
Categories: education - Tags: , ,

All available evidence and expert opinion suggests that National Standards, as the government intends to introduce them in our primary schools, won’t work. (If anyone is aware of evidence in support please cite it in comments!). As some wag put it, no matter how often you measure the pig, measuring it won’t make it fatter. National standards won’t raise educational achievement, they may actually do damage. Consider the international evidence:

Tests blamed for blighting children’s lives

Landmark study of primary schools calls for teachers to be freed of targets

Children’s lives are being impoverished by the government’s insistence that schools focus on literacy and numeracy at the expense of creative teaching, the biggest review of the primary school curriculum in 40 years finds today.

Consider the warnings of academics and the government’s own education advisor:

National standards ‘disaster’ feared

A top academic has told the government its controversial national standards system could be a disaster, warning it to block league tables, prevent teachers playing “devious games” with marking, and be prepared to dump the policy if it does not work. Professor John Hattie of Auckland University predicts that even with the changes he recommends, the system a key National policy will do little to raise student achievement.

Consider the opinions of the teaching professionals:

Principals boycott ‘sad day’

Principals boycotted the introduction of the Government’s national standards policy for primary schools, fearing the whole process will end in chaos.

Consider the evidence? The terrifying thing is that Key and Tolley appear to be evidence-blind. This has all the hallmarks of an ideological crusade, where evidence is irrelevant. I would have said that the same applied to all right-wing educational theorists, but there is one notable exception in the US (hat tip Dave Brown in comments). Take a bow Diane Ravitch:

Scholar’s School Reform U-Turn Shakes Up Debate

Diane Ravitch, the education historian who built her intellectual reputation battling progressive educators and served in the first Bush administration’s Education Department, is in the final stages of an astonishing, slow-motion about-face on almost every stand she once took on American schooling.

Once outspoken about the power of standardized testing, charter schools and free markets to improve schools, Dr. Ravitch is now caustically critical. She underwent an intellectual crisis, she says, discovering that these strategies, which she now calls faddish trends, were undermining public education. She resigned last year from the boards of two conservative research groups.

The fact that at least one conservative educationalist had a mind that was open enough to be changed by the evidence has given me renewed hope! Perhaps it isn’t too late for Key and Tolley after all. Perhaps we don’t have to condemn a generation of our children to the damaging consequences of this particular stupid faddish trend. Perhaps the NZEI should buy Ravitch a ticket, and get her on a plane here to talk some sense into our government. Before it is too late…

11 comments on “Listening to the evidence on national standards”

  1. Tolley spoke in West Auckland last night. She received a number of questions, appeared to be listening and then spouted out a number of slogans such as “it is for the kids” and “education standards have to improve” while not actually answering the question.

    Interestingly she did admit that no more testing will happen, current testing regimes are considered to be perfectly adequate and that it will not improve educational standards one iota.

    Even stranger is that numeracy, reading comprehension and spelling is already moderated and a national standard exists. Apparently writing is the one area where there is no national standard and this is because testing is so subjective. We are spending $53m to moderate writing testing and to pay for glossy state propaganda.

    My impression is the policy started off as a dog whistle policy and I am sure that more testing was intended. The Minister bent to intelligent advice and agreed to rely on an already adequate testing regime but wanted pretty graphs inserted in reports. The opportunity was also taken to bludgeon hard working and dedicated primary school teachers in the interests of gaining political support.

    This really is a mess. The inmates have taken over the asylum.

    • toad 1.1

      Bugger, I meant to go along to Tolley’s meeting last night micky, but completely forgot about it. Thanks for the report.

  2. Cheers Toad.

    Stand against National Standards has a post on the meeting here and I blogged about it here

  3. randal 3

    I used to think national standards were a good idea till I realised that the the school curriculum covers it anyway and that not everyone can do everything to a 100% standard.
    however by keeping this a matter for the policy wonks and not opening up the discussion so ordinary people can understand what is happening has allowed national to exploit this gap and once again throw everything into confusion likea game of coming ready or not.

  4. Catherine Delahunty, Green MP new Zealand 4

    This is a great discussion which the Education Select Committee at Parliament should be having and is yet to have. The evidence against National Standards is compelling particularly in terms of the diversity of children’s learning timeframes and the needs of children with disabilities, migrant and refugee children, and those for whom English is a second language. I keep in touch with teachers who tell me they can lift achievement in reading and writing for children but still not meet the new standards? Are they failures for merely lifting achievement when so many children start at different places? Are those children failures? What about the really significant issues in
    education such as children coming to school without food, and the increasing effects of social inequity on the young and vulnerable? Not to mention $35 million spent on private schools which the state sector badly needed.

    • r0b 4.1

      Hi Catherine, thanks for stopping by.

      This is a great discussion which the Education Select Committee at Parliament should be having and is yet to have.

      Do you have information about how people can make a submission to this committee?

      I keep in touch with teachers who tell me they can lift achievement in reading and writing for children but still not meet the new standards? Are they failures for merely lifting achievement when so many children start at different places?

      A good question for Tolley in the House…

      • toad 4.1.1

        You don’t get a chance to make submissions to the Education Select Committee on National Standards, r0b. The Nats denied us that opportunity.

        The legislation to bring in National Standards was introduced into Parliament on 9 December 2008 and rammed through all its stages on that same day – no submissions, no Select Committee hearings, no democracy at all really.

        That’s aprt of the reason it is turning into such a shambles. The only way the public will get a say would be if the Select Committee were to commence an inquiry into the implementation of National Standards, but I suspect the Government would use its majority on the Select Committee to block that if Catherine were to ask for it.

        • r0b 4.1.1.1

          Huh – I should have remembered / worked that out shouldn’t I – Catherine’s comment left me with the impression that the process was still ongoing, but of course it isn’t.

          Make a fuss in committee I say. Demand the evidence that justifies this law. Demand an enquiry. Make them vote it down.

    • Paul3 4.2

      ‘Not to mention $35m spent on private schools which the state sector badly needed’ – the private schools which are not subject to National Standards!

  5. felix 5

    You stay classy, San Diego.

  6. lenore 6

    One of my daughters is at intermediate school and we had a parent – student three way meeting. Our daughter pulled out her portfolio and explained the colourful graphs of her maths and reading pat tests and her goals for the term as a result of these tests as well as the several enquiry learning proposals. She has been at school for a month and not only has already been tested in several ways, she understood the tests herself and explained them brilliantly.

    So what extra tests does she need? In fact if children have too many tests, doesn’t that get in the way of the teaching? Also if we as parents are explained the stanine levels our kids are on, doesn’t that give us a pretty good idea where they fit compared to other kids of the same age in NZ? So what again is the point of more tests to state the same thing?

    I can’t quite understand why parents want more, we get heaps of information already. If I want to know how a school is doing overall I can have a look at their ERO report. We also get reports of how each class year is doing compared to the rest of the country – ie year 3 fits into …% .

    For me, I am concerned that some teachers are going to think “bugger more bloody admin” and leave or think twice before they go into teaching. They already have a “truck load” of admin, planning etc as it is.

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