Taken from a painting of Kapiti Island at Sunset.
by Sonia Savage.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

National Standards - Really?

Today the first set of data relating to National Standards has been published by New Zealand newspapers.  A newspaper cries, "What teachers didn't want you to know."  Really?

All I believe that can be stated from this particular set of data is - this set of data is unreliable and not valid.  How can it be?  There are hundreds of schools and thousands of teachers who have all made OTJ's ( overall teacher judgements) all according to their own opinion.  Nothing is moderated.  How can I know that one school's set of data stacks up against another? Simply, I can't.

In our local area, schools collected PAT testing and National Standards levelling from the cluster schools.  When we saw the collated data,  what we noted as a staff was that with the PAT testing which has some reliability and validity, we were sitting in the top third of schools and yet when we looked at the National Standards data, we were in the bottom third!  All you can say is, something odd there.  Sure PAT testing is only one indicator, but surely there should be some correlation.

A number of thoughts cross my mind.  We decided to be conservative, we looked at the national standards and cringed.  I wasn't sure actually if I personally would meet them at a Year 8 level!  We had heard that if you were one year below your level you were below and one year above then you were above.  If you were more than that then you were well below.  So we were conservative and we included all students, even those who really, truly and honestly have little chance of ever being at the standard for a number of reasons.

I do believe in letting parents know when their child is struggling.  A number of years ago I sat a parent down and told her gently but firmly her child really couldn't read!  Year 8!  She burst into tears and said "Oh darling, how can this be, no one has ever told me!".  Later when I eyeballed my colleagues they rolled their eyes and said, "We told her, every year."  Be this as it may, Mum didn't hear the message.  She did this time however and came back a second time with a friend so that she could work through the shock.  The upshot was, "Darling, with 35 students in your class, how can you teach my child, I am going to send him to a private school." And so she did!

The spoken or perhaps unspoken message is that every child can meet the standards if only the teachers would get their act together.  Really?  I know of a school who sent in their school goal to the MOE as to raise the below standard to standard by 50% this year.  The response was why not a 100%? Really! Really 'helpful' MOE lady offered to set Principal up with someone who could come and show the teachers how to lift students to 'at standard.' No doubt bringing magic wand with him/her.  The Principal was non committal, believing the staff were well capable and did not need to have a magic wand - oops I mean 'be shown.'

Every teacher I know works really hard and with skill to raise the achievement in their class.  When we can't we can call on the Resource Teacher of Literacy.  Yes there is ONE in our area for a large number of schools.  I have had the pleasure of her presence in my classroom a number of times now as she worked with students generally with some form of dyslexia or other.  She is a marvel and does great work.  I have learned so much from her.  Yet there is only ONE for a large area.  She has a waiting list.

That brings me naturally to where is the government in all this?  Well absent actually!  If they were really wanting to raise standards they would commit money where it counts.  One place where it counts is having more Resource Teachers of Literacy.  I believe we need the equivalent in Mathematics as well.

I am a skilled teacher and I do make a difference to my students.  However at times I need more than me.  Actually I am not a teacher superwoman.  I need a RTLit at times, and the Maths equivalent.  I need teacher aides at times.  With all that also, lets be honest here, while all students should make progress, not all are ever going to make the standard. They either need more years and they will, or because of disabilities they won't ever.

We are coming to that time of year when we will be making OTJ's again.  I am deciding I will be less conservative, I think my colleagues will too.  I found when I attended a local E-Attle day on writing that they exemplars they used were very useful for levelling and I think our writing will be better understood as we make our OTJ's.  I would have to add to that I wish TKI or whoever provides the models there, would deal with a real range of examples, not some pristine model that looks... well ... pristine.


  1. So many truths here, Kathryn. National Standards data can NEVER be valid. In my work in schools I have seen some disastrous interpretation of data. I watched a group of teachers assessing their students against National Standards at the end of 2011, using ONLY the results of an e-ASTTLE test done in July!!!!! This school would be seen as a successful school - it is a decile 10 Auckland school. I've also seen teachers at very small rural schools doing OTJs with very small groups of students and no comparison outside of their school. I had a very young teacher in tears all over me because she had two students below the standard in her class - they had both made a great deal of progress through the year but she felt like a failure because she hadn't actually got them to the standard despite their accelerated progress so all that showed in the data was the fact that they hadn't met the standard despite her (and their) hard work.

    National Standards in themselves are neutral and will never make a difference to learning.

    There has been so much money poured into Literacy and Numeracy PLD projects, but the assessment of these projects is dependent on self-reporting based on milestone reports. Of course they want to look as though they are successful or they wont get more funding. I really question the quality of much of this PLD, especially in writing. It has little impact on overall achievement and all I see is endless switched off students doing meaningless, non-authentic writing.

    It always amazes me that the MOE go on and on about community engagement and consultation, yet they continually refuse to engage and consult with their closest community - the people who really know - teachers and school leaders.

    A huge amount of money has been wasted in education over the years, but National Standards has to be the biggest waste EVER! Just this what we could have done with that money if we had been asked - then we might have seen some real progress in raising achievement for all students.

    1. Well said. Especially about where to spend the money! Does make me feel sad.

      Thanks for the comment and taking the time to add to the post.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...