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!