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Standards don’t make the grade

Written By: - Date published: 11:30 am, December 9th, 2010 - 20 comments
Categories: education - Tags: , ,

Yesterday, the OECD released its annual comparison of educational achievement in different countries. This study compares half a million kids’ aptitude in reading, maths, and science. Kiwi kids come out pretty damn well: 7th in reading, 13th in maths, 8th in science. And, guess what, we beat countries with National Standards hands down.

Anne Tolley’s main models for National Standards are the UK and US. Here’s how we fare compared to them:

Reading Maths Science
NZ 521 519 532
US 500 487 502
UK 494 492 514

I venture to suggest that the fact that National Standards encourage teachers to ‘teach to the test’, rather than general skills in a topic, is a key reason why achievement is so much lower in the US and UK. The kids might be able to learn by rort the answers to their National Standards but they don’t have the skill set to cope with a different set of examinations.

So, what’s Tolley’s policy to get us even further up the achievement table than we already are? Why National Standards, of course.

20 comments on “Standards don’t make the grade ”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    A bit of fine tuning + a few more resources and NZ will be in the top 5.

    Imagine, kicking the ass of all those countries who have Nat Stds and co-operation destroying incentive pay, by doing it the NZ way.

  2. ianmac 2

    Remember that those are average of the total cohort. When you take off the tail in NZ, NZ comes out at or near the top.
    So funny that we already know that we have a tail and the reasons for it. But the millions are being spent to find out if we have a tail! Nuts!

  3. fizzleplug 3

    My understanding of our National Standards (as opposed to the standardised tests that the UK and US have) is that they are a measurement base, reporting how children are performing against a (ill-defined) standard, rather than an actual means of testing the students. Therefore, you can’t actually teach to the test like in the UK/US, because there is no standardised test. I see National Standards actually assisting in the goal of pushing us up the rankings – it identifies those areas where a few more resources can be targeted as CV calls for.

    Am I understanding this wrong?

    As far as incentive pay (something mentioned again by CV), I think it’s a good idea, but not necessarily tied to the performance of the students. When I was at school, it was obvious to the students who the terrible teachers were. Both them and the students would have been better off if they left the profession. Surely they can implement ways of measuring effectiveness without relying on the results of the students (if I think of something, I’ll let you know). Good teachers deserve more than they are currently being paid. I just don’t think the dead wood should also be paid more.

    • ianmac 3.1

      One of the purposes of National Standards is to discover those who are in the so called “long tail.”
      But fizzleplug the fact that you already know that they exist as do all the schools negates the money being spent on what we already know. The under-performers are often kids from poverty homes, have an English language deficit, and low expectations, and are often in classes too large to get the individual help needed. We know that.
      So far there is no word from Tolley as to what help will be given to solve the problem.
      Remember that 80% of kids are achieving well or very well.

      • Logie97 3.1.1

        @fizzleplug 12:42
        Education’s problems are that most everyone has been a user of the system and are therefore experts. “When I was at school, it was obvious to the students who the terrible teachers were …” is spoken like a true secondary school pupil’s memory. On what basis do you pass this judgement on primary school teachers?

        And for your further information, National Standards are for Primary Schools. Now most schools have robust internal assessment of teaching practice and procedures to improve where needed.

        Sometimes, academic achievement is not a measure of a good teacher. Sometimes just providing a secure learning environment for a lot of children at Primary level, and giving them the motivation to learn is important – can take the best part of a year to achieve sometimes. Now how can you measure that teacher’s performance?

        captcha – arithmetic

    • Maynard J 3.2

      “My understanding of our National Standards (as opposed to the standardised tests that the UK and US have) is that they are a measurement base, reporting how children are performing against a (ill-defined) standard, rather than an actual means of testing the students.”

      Surely at some point the teachers will nkow what ‘the standard’ is, and then start teaching kids how to meet said standard.

      The irony about this is that the worse teachers will do this because a bad teacher would naturally think teaching to such stupid standards constitute good teaching, and then they’ll look like the good ones.

      The good teachers will carry on, and possibly not do so well ebcause they’re actually teaching, not just coaching to a test.

      Then the good teachers will get told they’re not so good, and bugger off.


  4. Kevin Welsh 4

    Marty, I think that should be “learning by rote”.

  5. Hilary 5

    If the country has no standardised curriculum, like the US and until recently Australia, there is some point in standardising testing to find out that kids are actually learning something. It forces appalling schools to improve their teaching of numeracy and literacy, even if they are still teaching creationism and the only book allowed is the bible. In NZ we have always had a standardised curriculum, high nationwide standard of state funded teacher training (apart from a blip in the 90s), a well unionised workforce and centralised evaluation/inspection (now ERO). That is why there is not much variation in teaching and learning in schools around NZ. So NZ schools are way past the need to just meet some random standards and are instead into innovative ways of teaching and learning as provided for in the new curriculum.

  6. A 6

    New Zealand has long had good standards of education all the way up to undergraduate level. Unfortunately, we don’t cut it at graduate level a lot of the time, but I guess Australia isn’t that far away.

    • ianmac 6.1

      A. What do you mean that “we don’t cut it at graduate level?”
      What does it mean and how do you know?

      • A 6.1.1

        It means that with a few exceptions, if you want to do a Masters or PhD, you will get a much better education if you go overseas than if you attend a NZ graduate program. Even the Australians have ANU, whereas we have nothing comparable.

        How do I know? I ended up having to go to graduate school overseas.

  7. jcuknz 7

    You are a comedian Marty … the percentage differences are so small I cannot see how you blame the UK/US on their national standards …. clutching at straws … LOL
    CV is right when he says with a bit of fine tuning we could be at the top because 7th, 8th, or 13th isn’t anything to shout about.

    • Craig Glen Eden 7.1

      If Marty is clutching at straws what’s Tolley clutching at. Who needs to blame, but we obviously shouldn’t aspire to be like them. Or is this the National Parties aspiration for NZ. Its all turning to shit for National.

  8. oftenpuzzled 8

    I have just received my sons’ report along with a questionnaire to complete on how we see his end of year Report in the light of National Standards expectations. The whole thing is a farce! We are told he is either below expected level, at expected level or above expected level. The essence of National standards we are told is the clarity of reporting! But what are the expected levels, what is it they have meant to achieve or not achieved to be classified for each level? We have not been informed of that important aspect. Should we not have something that tells us that he can multiply 3 digits by 2 digits at yr 7 or that he is able to spell x number of words at yr 3 and is therefore ‘at the expected level’. It is truly ludicrous to tell us that a child is below the expected level with no guidelines.
    We personally do not really care about National Standards, we have had faith in the curriculum over the last few years and have always had clear reporting that leaves us in no doubt of his achievement levels. These new standards have not given us further clarification at all’
    Our interest lies in whether our son enjoys School, is excited by what he learns, is encouraged to explore new and challenging concepts, develops problem solving skills that assist him in making wise decisions in life, is confident that as he tackles new concepts he will be supported by his teachers. Will these standards enable this – I DOUBT it very much.
    How disheartening for children and their parents when they could be consistently confronted with a form of ‘labelling’ that tells them their child is below standard. The new curriculum was overcoming these stigmas but we are reinventing them again. Shame upon the this Minister. DOWN with National Standards they are farcical!

  9. I am super annoyed at the moment-after reading that Anne Tolley is going to the world forum to pretend she is an educator and to talk about flagship initiatives like..can you believe it National Standards! It is a wonder I didn’t choke on my bile! More than likely someone will use a big educational word and she will end up embarrassing all of NZ!! She is going to visit schools and pretend she is the big educational leader..a woman who is not even in education!!

    Anyho before I explode and make a mess of your site-can I get you to sign up to my new version of http://www.teacherslounge.co.nz and read my blog about this! I wrote it while thinking unmentionable words so it would be cool if you could tell me what you think-all advice happily accepted…and do leave a comment!

    Cheers, Sharlene


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