Red Alert

A Poke and a Prod on National Standards and League Tables

Posted by on August 15th, 2012

I asked a question in the House yesterday on the Government’s quest to embed National Standards based on ‘ropey’ data. I received criticism that Labour’s position on National Standards and League Tables was sounding fuzzy. A prod and a poke led to this post from that criticism.

Just so I am clear from the outset, Labour does not support National Standards and League Tables. The Government has told parents on the one hand that they deserve good information about student achievement but are happy to mandate and post ‘ropey’ data on the Ministry’s website.

Minister Parata recently announced that the new Parent Achievement Information (PAI) database would be a quick online reference tool for parents detailing information about National Standards at their local school. On the one hand National is promoting these standards as a measure of how well children are doing in school. Yet there are huge variations between teachers and schools in Overall Teacher Judgements (OTJs) and the moderation process. National Standards do not give a good indication of how well a child’s learning progression is for the time that they are at school and they cannot be used as a comparative measure across schools. More alarming is the prospect that teachers who stress themselves out with the OTJ process start to second guess themselves and the way in which they are ranking children. This is the precursor to a change in teaching culture that may eventuate in a ‘teach to the test’ response. Through no fault of their own, teachers have had National Standards imposed upon them with haste. This has been quickly followed by Government expectations of mandated reporting and the potential for league tables to follow. The Government has not invested any funding into the OTJ or moderation process which demonstrates an inherent recognition that variability of data will remain a feature of the system.

But let’s get back to the real question: Will National Standards and League Tables improve the learning and achievement of young people to be well rounded citizens?

Simple answer: No.

National Standards are a blunt instrument to assess our young children and do not give an accurate picture of how well a child progresses; how successful interventions within a school, effective teaching practices and parental involvement can accelerate learning and make a difference.

Children are whole people, they are not widgets that must be tested periodically to assess their ability to retain and regurgitate information. National doesn’t get that. Yet their soundbite resonates with parents and the myth should be debunked.

To be well rounded, happy, resilient, competent, well socialised, innovative problem solvers and knowledge seekers a whole of curriculum approach is imperative. Connecting with young people to teach core subjects requires a skilled teacher who can teach math through sport, english via music, reading via kapahaka… all manner of innovative experiences for the learner.

I often think about how demoralising it must be for a little child who tries really hard at school, takes home their report and looks in their parents eyes when they read “below standard”… demoralising on a number of fronts. If a quality public education is valued in our society, we need to be mindful that children are whole people, from diverse backgrounds and family settings. School should be the one place where their dream to do and be more can be ‘achieved’.

They need their lights to be turned on… not snuffed out Minister Parata!

26 Responses to “A Poke and a Prod on National Standards and League Tables”

  1. David Farrar says:

    Nanaia – you’ve said Labour does not support league tables. Does that mean Labour supports an amendment to the Official Information Act to prevent the public and media from being able to access school assessment data? Because unless you are not prepared to change the law, I’m not sure your opposition will have any impact.

  2. refred says:

    You can put a suit and tie on a pig; but it is still a pig.

    The data is meaningless, put it in league tables and it is still meaningless. National are just formalising meaningless, useless data.

  3. Bolshie Bernie says:

    What National Standards actually needs is a National Standard way of obtaining the numbers. In business talk it’s called Quality Assurance.

  4. Paul B says:

    So minister Parata has set up ‘PAI’…’Parent achievment information! Should be ‘Pathetic acronym information’. Just like Mixed ownership Model’= ‘MOM’ … (that should be ‘MOM’ & ‘DAD’…’DAD’ for ‘Dumb And Deceiving’ ?)
    But back to Parata`s ‘Parent achievment Information’, it is smarmy in that it really means ‘”CHILD” Achievment Information” , but as that might seem a bit like ‘Child abuse’ if it is ‘unhelpful’, we get the euphemistic ‘Parent information’- Well, of course, Hekia, parent information might be truely interesting….and useful to assess a childs progress and problems,… but hardly a vote winner ..?
    Charter schools will of course also be required to extract the PAI information from their dysfunction?
    This government will go to any lengths, no matter how destructive, to spite our teachers, and consequently compromise one of the best education systems on the planet! SHAME

  5. Dorothy says:

    National Standards have been a disaster in England, leading to a “teach to the test” mentality. The only possible reason for adopting a policy that’s failed elsewhere is a desire to dumb down education and create a production-line mentality in schools – the opposite of what a good education system should entail.

  6. Fortran says:

    Why has there a series of complaints that something like 50% of the UK Olympic participants have come from Private schools ?
    Do they perhaps have something different to offer, often at enormous personal financial cost to parents (who still pay taxes to support State schools).

  7. Bill Courtney says:

    First of all, a change to the Official Information Act could be one way of keeping the data from public view. This is what Finland does, as Finland has no form of national testing or school ranking lists. In fact, they have abolished the equivalent of ERO and school inspection systems simply do not exist. In simple terms, they don’t need them, as all their schools are excellent! But I doubt that any NZ government would be enlightened enough – unfortunately – to follow the Finnish model .
    Anne Tolley told us a lot of rubbish about how the government was actively seeking to find a solution to the issue of league tables. Here are two direct quotes:

    “We are well aware of what has happened overseas and we are well aware that league tables do not promote improved student outcomes. This government will not be publishing league tables.” (Anne Tolley letter to BoT Chairs, Dec 2009)

    “I acknowledge the concerns of the education sector about how data from standards might be used. In response, I am working with those groups to determine the most effective ways of protecting the data and ensuring it is used for positive purposes such as school review and system improvement.” (Anne Tolley letter to Bill Courtney, 10 March 2010)

    I doubt very much that Hekia Parata’s Public Achievement Information will do anything other than harm to the education system. Ian Schagen wrote a great op-ed piece in the NZ Herald in December 2009 that sums up this issue up superbly:

    “The system in England is based on national tests, increased competition and accountability with the annual publication of school league tables based on percentages of students achieving “expected” levels in these tests. The political theory was that it would make schools accountable for their students’ achievement and would allow parental choice to drive school improvement. There is wide agreement in New Zealand that such an approach is flawed. League tables based only on student achievement tell virtually nothing about how well schools are doing. The schools that come out top are those with the best intake, not those providing the best education.”

    People like David Farrar simply do not understand this. But while they are in positions of influence they will be listened to a lot more than experts or parents.
    It’s called ideology.

  8. Paul B says:

    Refering to my comment above
    I must apologise for misrepresenting the acronym, ‘PAI’, as refering to ‘Parent Achievement Information’ rather than ‘Public Achievement Information’ , but, surely this term is also no less of a foolish and rather meaningless phrase – and little more than an attempt to soften and ‘euphamise’ LEAGUE TABLE.
    This government is so often exposed as ‘form over function’… and destructive to boot.
    If National is so determined to introduce league tables then surely it must have an unequivocal formula to bring lower performing schools up to what it considers acceptable. BUT surely the only way to do this is to spend much much more on the disadvantaged schools, AND seriously reduce class sizes. The recent attempted policy to INCREASE class sizes suggests that the present govt speaks with a very forked tongue indeed.
    National seems determined to kick schools with difficulties
    and undoubtably worsen their situation, BUT all the while attempting to deceive the electorate that they are trying to help.
    It is probably significant that relatively few National voters children attend struggling schools.
    Parents of children at such schools must be encouraged to obtain fair treatment by means of the ballot box

  9. Tim G. says:

    David Farrar is unpersuasive in the extreme.

    It is beyond disingenuous to pretend there is no difference between:

    a) the government holding disparate information received from schools that MAY be accessed by someone with enough time of their hands; and

    b) the government publishing that information (and, by inference, attesting to the fact that it is somehow empirical) collated into league tables as a resource for deciding which school to send little Penny to.

    That crap might cut it at kiwiblog, but not here, buster.

  10. OneTrack says:

    So labour wants to keep information regarding the quality of publicly funded institutions out of reach of the members of the public who can make the most use of it, ie parents deciding where to educate their most important responsibility, basically because labour simply doesnt trust them with the information.

  11. Rex Morris says:

    In a list of schools on a national league table lets say school A has a ranking of 235. School B up the road has a ranking of 395 and school C down the road has the highest ranking of 435. The rankings have been determined by data schools are required to send to the Ministry.

    Which school is going to be seen as the “best” school in this cluster of three? How is this judgment made?

    How does the number 235 for school A reflect the quality and effectiveness of the school and its teachers when [1] 25% of the children have transferred to the school from other schools mostly outside the area, in the last 18 months or less, [2] 4% are in a special education category [eg dpwn syndrome, autism] 15% are slow learners and only ever rank on the 16th per centile or below on standardised tests?

    Does this league table ranking demonstrate the difference the teachers have made to the achievements of the children. For example, 37% of the children arrived at the school as year One pupils performing up to three years below their age level in language. By the end of their first year at school, the children had made up the initial deficit and were achieving in the in the levels 7-11 in reading. Below the level arbitrary and untested national standards set but significant progress by anyones standards.

    While School A is ranked nationally at 235, are parents making a good decision when they decide to move their children to school C because of its higher ranking?

    In School C’s Education Review Office [ERO] report, a statement is made that the teachers are cruising – there is no real challenge in the learning, their is no capturing of the generally high abilities of the children, their is no excitement for learning evident in the classrooms and there is a high use of worksheets.

    So how has the league table informed parents? How is it helping them determine the effectiveness of the school? How doe sit help the school?

    How does it help anyone???????

  12. Rex Morris says:


    A definitive statement for Labour.

    Can we assume then that when Labour win the next election they will be abolishing national standards and PAI?

  13. John W says:

    Them and US.

    Divide and privatise

    Bought teaching systems with grades [ and sanitised content ]

    Break up the unions

    We don’t need and educated mass.

    The financially elite parasites [ the least productive group in society ] will separate their kids from other anyway.

    All the above lead to a mess but the bottom end suffer the most.

    There is not enough opposition activity stimulating the non voters to act.

  14. Vivienne Shepherd says:

    I cannot understand why there is so much discussion and analysis of National Standards and League Tables.
    The evidence is out, they fail the children, they create the perception of failing schools, they are destructive to our world leading-well researched and evidence based education system, they stress the teachers who would no longer teach to and for the whole child, they are designed to create competition in the class room and all the rest of it.
    All statements now should be around abolishing this abomination.
    Nanaia I really liked your comment, teaching maths through sport and physical education. Let’s have trained physedders in early childhood and primary school-bring out the fun. And let’s really learn to understand what competition is from a sports psychology definition— it’s all about cooperation!

  15. Builders mate says:

    Yeah yeah…..lets disregard the fact that every other industry has standards and testing and consumer feedback and lets just keep our state backed monopoly and tenure to ourselves….righto…..


  16. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for clarifying the position with regard to National Standards and league tables, Nanaia. You’ve made a very coherent argument that many teachers will welcome hearing.

  17. John W says:

    Builder mate

    Rigorous standards already exist coupled with a curriculum that has taken many years to develop and streamline under the meagre resources allocated to education. Educationally these are both liked and are highly regarded by world standards.

    The importation of ideas born out of a class inbedded education environment just don’t fit NZ nor will the results from schooling be better.

    The distraction of National Standards approach will do a lot of harm to Education.

    But if you are happy to accept the rubbish spouted be puppet Hekia Parata then so be it.

  18. Rex Morris says:

    Builders Mate – what standards are you referring to – I have heard about a huge leaky building problem…………..

  19. Mike Steinberg says:

    ****. In simple terms, they don’t need them, as all their schools are excellent! ****

    @ Bill Courtney

    They have also been a very homogeneous country. You probably get a similar mix of students across schools. If you read Robert Weissberg’s “Bad Students, Not Bad Schools”, you’ll see that student motivation & aptitude is the major factor in what makes a good school. This largely comes from the students and their parents.

  20. Jeremy says:

    Unfortunately Paul B League tables are a definite vote winner, esp for the center. Too many people such as builders mate/DPF are still thinking in terms of productivity/efficiency/outputs rather than effectiveness/outcomes. Labor needs to be clear that schools and many other departments need holistic assessment data, such as an ERO report rather than a number on a table. (Charter schools in the US tend to avoid such scrutiny, possibly because half are backdoor religious recruitment agency determined to teach Creationism/ID)
    We do not need the impression that Labor will prevent parents from accessing information to decide which school to send their kids to. The temptation for the ‘busy middle’ is to go straight for an answer (a figure) without considering the question.
    We all know someone who sends their kids to private schools at much hardship, even with scholarships. Often these parents have had poor experiences with “bad” previous teachers/schools, public or private. All parents want to choose the best for their kids, and many have been left none the wiser when asking parents/principals how their kids are doing. These are the problems that Labor needs to define and solve. Only then can they criticize National who at least are addressing the concern of parents,even if the cure is worse than the disease.
    National also seem to think there is votes in “standing up to” the all powerful union that wants to protect their jobs first before looking after your kids. Obviously someone should point out that the union is the teachers/ professionals. The minister is only an amateur when it comes to educational theory. If they are determined to cut out the union then they are determined to have no professional input to their amateur decisions. Not sure the public would be too keen on Treasury and other faceless bureaucrats deciding what/how to teach.

    IE – the public need to know and have faith in labors well written alternatives. Need to understand it as well as trust that it is meaningful. Parents need to support their school and know that their school is just as good as any other, and getting better each year. And let the electorate that National talks about the long tail then directs resources to the top private schools, while making the job harder at the bottom 25%.

  21. mh says:

    All these comments continue to ignore the facts that over 90% ? of teachers are women,until the sex ratio is improved and men are encouraged to enter what is left of the so called profession then schools will continue to fail no matter what standards are asked for or displayed. The only league results in sth Akld to be of any value are those of the NRL comp.

  22. SJW says:

    John W

    Worth repeating what you said

    “Them and US.

    Divide and privatise

    Bought teaching systems with grades [ and sanitised content ]

    Break up the unions

    We don’t need and educated mass.

    The financially elite parasites [ the least productive group in society ] will separate their kids from other anyway.

    All the above lead to a mess but the bottom end suffer the most.

    There is not enough opposition activity stimulating the non voters to act.”


  23. @Dorothy I agree I don’t know why National thinks following UK or USA models will improve our educational outcomes??

    @Paul B If they had an acronym to sum their Government up what would it be?

    @refred on the one hand National says parents need good data yet they are happy to put national standards up on the PAI. Variable data is inaccurate information to compare the effectiveness of a school

    @Rex morris league tables will not help parents to discern how well their child is progressing at school, you make a very sound argument as to why the move is contrary to what really matters in terms of evaluation and assessment of children against parental expectation. I suspect most parents want an education for their child that will develop their full potential across the whole curriculum! On the PAI you should expect that a Labour Government will stress the importance of reporting against the whole curriculum and argue for robust qualitative data that can inform effective teaching practice and engage children and parents in learning outcomes

    @Stephanie. :) thanks

    @All National has chosen parental opinion as the battleground for education policy. Thats why they had to retract on class sizes (a doomed and ill informed policy). Parents knew that putting their kids in a larger class was not a good idea. Plain english reporting is the hook for National Standards but its not a complete picture for children’s individual learning progression or to inform parents what schools are doing particularly well in the context of their community. @SJW and @John W the revolution is about parent knowing what is at stake if National continues its systemic distruction of a quality public education system.

  24. Joanie Panting says:

    The public do not realise just how stupid these ‘standards’ are. How many people know for example that the standard for Maths is the same at the end of Year 5 as it is at the end of Year 6. If theachers take that data aolone it means the children look as though they are underachieving in Year 5 and fine again in Year 6. Schools already have good normed and tested assessment procedures which fit with the curriculum. These ‘standards’ are just a distraction and a way to get their ‘National’ logo in the public eye.

  25. Leanne says:

    There are some slack teachers out there, and I have experienced one for two years at a rural school. Lazy, unfair, poor pastoral care, used her cellphone in class for personal calls – you get the picture. If National Standards can lift the standard of teacher performance, then it is worth pursuing. That same slack teacher was caught out by persistent parents like myself going back and forth to the principal for over a year. She is now under the wing of a competent senior teacher and doing a much better job.

    Kids will learn better if teachers give their all in the classroom and make lessons fun. The kids learn without even know they are learning! So all for it, although it needs a lot of work to make standards consistent and I don;t think the Ministry has got a handle on that yet. ERO is now much more specific in their targets and give much more relevant feedback at the conclusion of their visits.

  26. Peter C says:

    National Standards data has now been released. Also of interest is that there are 25 schools named as not supplying National Standards data to the Ministry – one being Waikanae Primary. However this is somewhat eroneous. The facts are that a) the BOT has had regular constructive ongoing dialogue with the MoE. B) The BoT has supplied assessment data to the Ministry – copious amounts of data! C) The National Standards data is already on the school website.
    One of the concerns about current National Standards data according to Hon John Key is that it is “ropey” due to lack of moderation, and of course there is also the issue of lack of depth. Waikanae School supplied over 160 pages of assessment data, data that is both historical going back over several years,and comparative data that is current. It breaks the information down into the different cohurts, by age, class group, ethnicity, and gender. The school has reported to parents using the National Standards. The National Standards data is there, embeded in the other data to give an overall comprehensive view of how children are performing. It is also posted on the school’s website for anyone to see. The problem appears to that the Ministry website can not handle the amount of assessment data provided. Instead the Ministry wants the data in a narrow, overly simplistic 2-3 page box ticking format.