National standards aren’t

Written By: - Date published: 9:32 am, March 16th, 2012 - 34 comments
Categories: education, national, schools - Tags: ,

National standards have been imposed on schools against expert advice, against international experience, and against considerable opposition. The government can bully schools into the appearance of compliance. But they can’t make a flawed and unworkable scheme workable. They can’t stop the perverse and damaging incentives that standardised testing creates. And they can’t stop some teachers from doing what they think is best for the education of their kids.

So the news is breaking that national “standards” are nothing of the kind:

Study finds schools are setting own standards

A report looking at six diverse schools from around the country has revealed schools are struggling to keep up with demands under the system. It also shows at least one school has lowered its students’ achievement target so that it did not look bad if the set target was not reached.

The Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards project – commissioned by the education sector union, the Educational Institute – is a three-year study led by Waikato University professor Martin Thrupp. It showed schools were interpreting National Standards in different ways, taking into account factors within their own community such as socio-economic status, location and curriculum development.

One school had refused to use the category “below” when informing parents of their child’s progress because, it said, it unfairly labelled them as failures. Another school had gone to the extreme measure of lowering its school achievement target. …

In contrast to “Seagull School”, staff at another school, dubbed “Cicada School”, were cutting back its curriculum in order to get students up to National Standards levels. … In a newsletter, the school told parents: “The curriculum is going to become very narrow. If everybody’s jobs are now dependent on making significant improvement in achievement … people are going to focus only on reading, writing and maths.

“Curriculum areas such as PE, music and art are likely to be squeezed out. Those things that many students enjoy and most of us see as important in an education system will be given a reduced status.” …

Perry Rush, chairman of the Boards Taking Action Coalition which believes there are numerous flaws in National Standards, said the study confirmed that National Standards was a policy of forced compliance.

“Last year, the ministry decided to ignore the clamour from the education sector regarding these flawed standards and I think it’s no surprise that this study shows that schools are conforming in name only,” he said.

There is other reporting of the Thrupp report here and here.

Hey National – time to put an end to this fiasco and an end to the standards before they do any more damage. Use the perfectly adequate existing methods of assessment and reporting. Have confidence in our world-class primary education system and the (remarkably cost-effective) results that it produces. Stop damaging kids – just because you don’t want to be seen to back down.

34 comments on “National standards aren’t”

  1. Hate to say we told you so.
    Actually I love to say it.

    • Kotahi Tane Huna 1.1

      Yes, add this to the long list of National policies that were predicted to be total and abject failures by everyone credible, and lo and behold, the predictions came true.

      You’d think they’d be embarrassed by the utter incompetence of everything they have ever done.

  2. happynz 2

    In contrast to “Seagull School”, staff at another school, dubbed “Cicada School”, were cutting back its curriculum in order to get students up to National Standards levels. … In a newsletter, the school told parents: “The curriculum is going to become very narrow. If everybody’s jobs are now dependent on making significant improvement in achievement … people are going to focus only on reading, writing and maths.

    This is what happens. I’ve seen it in schools in countries that are mad keen on ‘standards’. If a teacher’s job security is dependent on students’ performance in certain areas, the curriculum indeed would become narrow. In the worst case, students could be fed the answers to exams so as to maintain the illusion of ‘standards’ being met.

    • shreddakj 2.1

      That’s exactly what happens in a lot of schools around the states with Bush’s “No Child Left Behind”.

      • Maggie May 2.1.1

        Presidenrt Obama has already officially disbanded the “No child left behind” national standards in America as it has proven to be a failure in children’s education.

        In fact I watched a clip on CNN where school children were themselves starting a partition against 40 children in each classroom as they feel their education has suffered greatly since it’s introduction of “no child left behind” national standards.

        But then again it is very clear John Key is not interested in educating all our young, he seems to think only “rich bitch” kids should get an education so they can be the ruling class over the surfs.

        They do not seem to have asked themselves yet, why on earth would these surfs want to create wealth for these educated people when there is nothing in it for them other than a below the cost of living wage.

        Wonder what will happen when they finally realise the surfs arn’t interested in creating their wealth for them.

    • Shane Gallagher 2.2

      “students could be fed the answers to exams so as to maintain the illusion of ‘standards’ being met.”

      That is, in fact, what happens in the US and the UK. You impose a set of “rules” and “targets” and people game the system in order to win. It is bloody-mionded game-theory based neo-liberalism.

    • Rusty Shackleford 2.3

      This is certainly my experience in the standards mad Republic Of Korea. Every eight weeks around mid and end term exams my classes are canceled so the students can have ‘test prep’ with their subject teachers. It isn’t a covert thing. It’s pretty explicit that they are being fed the answers.

      All of the exams are multi-choice as well. They do zero project work. I taught essay writing to a large group of teachers during the winter vacation. The ability to write a simple precis of a short article was nigh on non-existent. They admitted that it was the case in their native language as well.

      Moral of the story; it’s safe to ignore Korea’s supposed superiority in educational attainment.

  3. Roger 3

    Not exactly a surprise, even John Hattie warned that this was going to happen as well as various groups interested in childrens education that actually have any expertise. This is a sad time to say I told you so since a world class education system is under attack and children are being used as collateral in what is effectively an ego trip by a few idiots with their hands on the levers.

  4. Wouldn’t it be better, given N.C.E.A. doesn’t work terribly well either – I never could see the need for it – if New Zealand were to go back to the old tried and true School Certificate/Sixth Form Certificate/University Bursary, with a few modifications?

      • McFlock 4.1.1

        Three consecutive years of “one shot to pass in 3 hours or ruin your life” stress should be left in the dustbin of history, along with the 11+

        • shreddakj

          I did NCEA, I think I was in the second or third group of students to do it, and while I had some criticisms of the system there is no way I would have been happy with being shaped to a bell-curve.

        • RobertM

          Even for a nervous little nerd like me, SC in the 1970s wasn’t so bad. But in reality SC like NCEA was too easy for the bright who in many cases had to make little effort and impossible in English and Maths for the bottom 40%. My parent’s were in many ways not as conservative as me and my father believed the SC English syllabus in the 1970s was inapproprite and impossible for the low streams and had to be replaced by something else and in reality that SC, English was little more than an intelligence test in which the teachers effort made little or no difference, I would say that wa true for half the pupils.
          In terms of my own English which some criticise on the Standard , I would say both my parents were secondary school English teachers, my mother a specialist reading teacher. My father had a first in English from Victoria, Wgtn, by mother a good second. When I was at primary school in the l960s look and say was at its height and in that period and 70s there was the least emphasis on grammar and spelling. In my case over the last decade the issues have been magnified by poor eyesight problems and often composing on time or pay limited computers.
          Essentially my mother used whatever method of reading teaching would get the best results for a pupil be in phonics or look and say. But in my case,, my mother and other teachers in the early l960s used look and say to the maximum degree, with only a very minimal phonics correction ability, to maximise a certain type of intelligence with a very considerable trade off in less gramatical or spelling ability. This in some ways gave me an advantage , but it became less so in the 21C with more emphasis on what mid level employers wanted and the growing importance of the internet and computing which being middle aged I never achieved more than the ability to get thru on even as an honours student in 2006. Also the professional journalsim and commentary I did in the 1980s was often edited by four or five editors and family members with IQs in the 130s and a great deal of my work also went thru word processing and correction by professional secretaries and professional secretaries , and this ceased to by the case in the 21C.

        • Colonial Viper

          Yeah easy to say McFlock, except males are adversely affected in situations where the sole focus is internal assessment.

          Ask any law or medical faculty, since the change in high school exam systems a few years back the boys have a much harder time being competitive with the girls and have a much reduced confidence in academic settings than even 10 years ago.

          • McFlock

            I tend to exam better than internals. But I also burned out in school and didn’t make the cut for UE (although did very well in SC).
            My impression of male students at university (and recollection from when I was doing educ stats) is that many of them were less focused and less prepared than their female colleagues. A significant block of female students seem to arrive in town earlier, focus on classes earlier, and often have caregivers in town in the first few days to help them settle in. They also tend to hold a grudge against disciplinarians longer than male students, as an aside (but sly bottle-throwing at the source of their displeasure was less common than from male students). Personally I think that part of the issue is that education of females transitioned to empowerment and collaborative encouragement several years ago, whereas I think a few of the boys’ schools and teachers are still in the rugby-and-entitlement mentality. A significant block of male students haven’t yet figured out that they now have to work for some stuff in life, and there’s some shit that dad can’t get them out of. 
            But gender disparities in educational achievement could even be down to the lack of male role models in education faculty since Peter Ellis. Blaming it on a lack of exams seems to be a bit precious.

          • Vicky32

            Yeah easy to say McFlock, except males are adversely affected in situations where the sole focus is internal assessment.

            My son would disagree with you about that! He and his guy friends all did as well as the girls around them. He knew boys who didn’t do as well, but told me that they were simply lazy – and I believe him – he knows much more about that than I do (I went to an all-girls school in the days of School C., and I did well, and I had uneducated parents, RobertM.)

        • Bored

          Fekk Macker, I excelled at both of those: here I am as living proof that they look impressive at the time but mean Fanny Adams (especially if you are a non conformist)….

    • Draco T Bastard 4.2

      NCEA works fine – it’s why we have a world class education system. If we went back to the old system our education system would get worse and our children would suffer.

    • Vicky32 4.3

      Wouldn’t it be better, given N.C.E.A. doesn’t work terribly well either –

      I beg to differ, it works perfectly well.  My son sat NCEA level 3 a few years ago, and now is working as a nurse after successfully completing his degree course. No problems at all!

  5. The modifications I was thinking of would be to ensure all courses have a component of internal assessment so that it does not come down to three hours in November. I was thinking courses could all have tests at the end of each subject or mid year exams that account for everything done up to say, June.
    The only reason why I got my mediocre marks in this format was that I did not do enough study. You can’t blame the system for that.

    • Dv 5.1

      Oh, like Ncea then.

      • Simon Poole 5.1.1

        Not necessarily. When I took Bursary Biology I believe 35% of the grade was internal assessment, with the remainder coming from the exam. Friends of mine did Physical Education at the bursary level, and again there was a not-insignificant internal component.

        Of course, other classes I took (Chemistry, Calculus, Classical Studies, English) were all 100% external. And NCEA certainly can’t be worse than 6th form cert, where your pool of available grades is set by the performance of the school in School Cert the year before. That was a clusterfuck.

  6. Bored 6

    My shot as an employer: more tech courses where I can hire good keen 18 year olds with a few skills that I can hone and reward. Hired a guy with a little skill set recently who has great attitude, worth his weight in gold already.

    Big thing to me is demonstrable aptitude (the tech course at school helps here) and attitude (school can do that too)…NCEA L3 in whatever, or BCom just does not give me anywhere to go.

    Having said that pretty much every 18 – 25 year old I see wants the job and would make a fist of it, we employers (and the economy in general) are letting down a whole generation. They all want to work and contribute, and we serve up crap as a future to them from day one.

    • seeker 6.1


      “Having said that pretty much every 18 – 25 year old I see wants the job and would make a fist of it, we employers (and the economy in general) are letting down a whole generation. They all want to work and contribute, and we serve up crap as a future to them from day one.”

      I agree with your wise and perceptive comment on this issue. We should really try to put our heads together to try and come up with some answers to this problem that you have pertinently exposed. Maybe this is where the business community could show some creativity outside their own bubble?

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