Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Standards Matter

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  • Cecelia,

    Going back to schools, national standards - precisely because they are so easy to measure

    Who is going to check that they are measured properly? I had a quick look at a couple of reading standards and thought they looked quite good but you can bet that teachers will have different interpretations of them.

    In my old town one of the schools reported 100% in Level 1 literacy some years ago. How can that be? I'm not accusing it of being a Cambridge but there are ways and means of measuring and presenting. Schools will be desperate to present themselves well.

    Hibiscus Coast • Since Apr 2008 • 559 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Certainly the idea of getting 76% in morality is absurd. (The idea of getting 76% in literacy is pretty absurd as well for that matter.) But that doesn't mean you can't measure these things in some ways.

    It's more a judgment-based evaluation than an assay, though, wouldn't you say? Which is why we don't say of the social sciences that are sciences in the same way that physics or medicine are. Yet when it suits a government's ideology you'll always find a technocrat or five ready to oblige and say that no, we can and should measure everything.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    In my old town one of the schools reported 100% in Level 1 literacy some years ago. How can that be? I'm not accusing it of being a Cambridge but there are ways and means of measuring and presenting. Schools will be desperate to present themselves well.

    We-eelll, if you mean the literacy component of Level 1 NCEA, you only need8 credits to get it - and it's any 8 credits now, whereas they used to sp ecify 4 in reading and 4 in writing - so if you got failing kids to study for just two 4-credit papers, and pushed them on those two, I can imagine you could get everyone through. Not easy, but not impossible.

    (And I'm being nice and not bringing up internal v. external standards, and reassessment.)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    It's more a judgment-based evaluation than an assay, though, wouldn't you say?

    But lots of measurements are really judgement based I should say. (And again here I want to talk about Wittgenstein on measurement, and the rubber yard-stick.)

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Yet I don't think that Wittgenstein's point was that physics and education are as much a science as each other, somehow. This, notwithstanding what Heisenberg and others teach us.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    I think Gio may have hit a big button:

    Another aspect of the scientific approach to the social is that it tends to focus on what is defective. Again, because it's easier to measure.

    In a way this is a result of little money.

    To quote someone else on Widgets. If I had to make sure that I was producing good widgets I WOULD concentrate on the "defective".

    Moving to childrens education. If I wanted to improve the "measure" of children's "education" I would concentrate on the lower ranked surely. That way there is a guarantee the average will rise. Lots of political gain.

    Perchance if we had enough money to do the whole spectrum. The average would not change as - presumably - we would insist that progress was spread out. Half below, half above. There is no political gain here.

    I also suspect that concentrating on the under achievers (love that phrase) we have pandered to our social roots in trying to ensure those at the bottom have a better chance of "making it".

    I still think that "Civics" and a course on "What might be good for your future child" may be a good place to start to decrease the underachievers by educating future parents in simple social and life skills without the need to invoke any religious teaching.

    Somewhere in the cycle there has to be the link to break it.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    But physics isn't an ideal type of a science. Biology is just as much a science as physics, and yet surprisingly light on things like equations. Things can be scientific without being physics-like.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Bringing some themes together.
    A new book called 'Marcelo in the real world' by Francisco X Stork has as narrator a 17 year old autistic boy from Boston. At one point he contrasts his special school to the local high school he is transitioning to: 'Public school students study in order to pass standardized tests. We studied what needed to be learned. I will need to learn the way they learn...'

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3226 posts Report Reply

  • kiwi kat,

    We-eelll, if you mean the literacy component of Level 1 NCEA, you only need8 credits to get it - and it's any 8 credits now, whereas they used to sp ecify 4 in reading and 4 in writing - so if you got failing kids to study for just two 4-credit papers, and pushed them on those two, I can imagine you could get everyone through. Not easy, but not impossible.

    With all due respect Lucy, could you link to an NZQA page or something similar for this because it is my understanding that the subject of English, at Level 1 as it stands now, is still the gate keeper for literacy. Students must get reading and writing credits in the English domain to achieve literacy. There is some talk of literacy at Level 2 being assessed by 'language rich' subjects such as History and Media Studies etc, but that isn't happening this year.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2008 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    And what of early childhood education? Because you don't imagine that National Standards will be just for children aged over 5, do you? Oh no, trickle down it will be, and sadly, that means it will all flow on. I'm off to a great seminar thingy held by our own Julie Super Woman to find out all about how it's going to affect my sector. I do not expect to be surprised by the information that is forthcoming.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    With all due respect Lucy, could you link to an NZQA page or something similar for this because it is my understanding that the subject of English, at Level 1 as it stands now, is still the gate keeper for literacy. Students must get reading and writing credits in the English domain to achieve literacy. There is some talk of literacy at Level 2 being assessed by 'language rich' subjects such as History and Media Studies etc, but that isn't happening this year.

    Sorry, not specific enough - I mean it is now any 8 English* credits, whereas in my day, IIRC, you specifically had to pass four reading (i.e. the reading comprehension paper) and four writing (i.e. one of the essay papers) credits. Whereas now you could cherrypick the most re-assessable/internal/non-writing based credits.

    *and Te Reo, of course

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    But physics isn't an ideal type of a science. Biology is just as much a science as physics, and yet surprisingly light on things like equations. Things can be scientific without being physics-like.

    I still think that biology is a lot more like physics than education, quite frankly. And I am terrorised that somebody might come up with the genus "plonker" some time in the near future. We need to resist rigid taxonomies along with crude measurements.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    And I am terrorised that somebody might come up with the genus "plonker" some time in the near future.

    What makes you think they are not here already. Alive, kicking about, deciding what standards should be applied.....

    Peter? Is that you?

    What was that about competence???

    And don't forget to link to the Dilbert Principle on the page.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Cecelia,

    TKI - formative assessment (assessment for learning) is nurturing the kumara. Summative assessment (tests and rankings etc) is measuring the kumara.

    Formative assessment was sooo in a few years ago. ERO etc. What happened?

    Hibiscus Coast • Since Apr 2008 • 559 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Having just spent the last hour tracking links across from the Peter Principle I came across this. About half way down. It is talking of USA.

    Close it was to what is the topic. Standards etc:

    Strangely enough, after Dr. Peter’s book was published, Dr. Parkinson wrote a scathing and not-funny review of it – as I recall, in the Sunday magazine of The Los Angeles Times. I suspect that he saw Dr. Peter as infringing on his turf.

    In the section on hierarchical regression, Dr. Peter wrote:

    One [school] administrator told me: "I wish I could pass all the dull pupils and fail the bright ones: that would raise standards and grades would improve. This hoarding of dull students lowers the standard by reducing the average achievement in my school."

    Peter recognized, as did the administrator, that this extreme policy would not be tolerated by the public.

    So, to avoid the accumulation of incompetents, administrators have evolved the plan of promoting everyone, the incompetent as well as the competent. They find psychological justification for this policy by saying that it spares students the painful experience of failure.

    The problem is this: every day, you and I must deal with the results of this comprehensive policy. So must every employer. Students who stay in high school for four years probably graduate. But they cannot all read.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Julie Fairey,

    A bit up thread Deep Red asked if the PPTA or NZEI had a presence at private schools. The answer is no.

    I'm not an expert on private schools (despite attending one for a couple of years, oops) but my understanding is that some have staff associations, which are basically small in-house unions, and at others the staff (not sure if maybe just teachers?) join what used to be called ISTANZ (Independent Schools Teachers Association) and was renamed recently ISEA (Independent Schools Education Assn). Grant Gillon, former Alliance MP, heads up ISEA I think. There may indeed be some at which there is no collective staff body for employment issues at all, places like Middleton Grange perhaps?

    Again with the caveat that I don't know all that much about this, I believe that the collective employment agreements they have are pretty much based on the CEAs that NZEI and PPTA negotiate in the public sector, usually with some kind of percentage on top in terms of pay (e.g. the base scale plus 10%), and other various idiosyncracies that have come about through historical stuff (e.g. everyone gets their birthday off because the staff got peeved when they found out that happened at the Warehouse in the 1990s and petitioned the Board/whatever). Other PAS commenters may know more about this than me.

    Also, I blush at you Jackie, look forward to seeing you next week!

    Puketapapa Mt Roskill, AK… • Since Dec 2007 • 234 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    literacy at Level 2 being assessed by 'language rich' subjects such as History and Media Studies etc,

    Level 1 Media Studies willl be introduced in 2011. The AS have been developed and are being trialled this year. I would argue (with great vigour) that Media Studies is very much about literacy. Most specifically, 'literacies' of the kind which equip students for the C21st--as well as accessing all the best of the C20th.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2560 posts Report Reply

  • Mikaere Curtis,

    Great post, Russell.

    I've had a cursory scan of some of the documents on the MOE site, and what I've seen look pretty well though out. As Russell points out, those charged with deliverying this seem to be doing their best at creating a mechanism for ascertaining a child's progress.

    The good news is that they aren't specifying specific assessment mechanisms, and include concepts like Overall Teacher Judgement and Moderation which implies flexibility and peer review.

    The bad news is that it is politcally driven, right from the ramming through under Urgency. My reading of it is that Key and Tolley are expounding the meme that the teacher union, in opposing this rushed legislated programme, are attempting to protect incompetent teachers.

    I've seen first hand what it takes to identify and address the problem of an incompetent teacher, and I can tell you that you certainly don't need a National Standard to do it.

    No, what I think Key and Tolley are doing is setting the union up as the cause of failure when their soundbite-based programme gets itself into strife.

    Here's how it will go down:

    1. Schools will invest significant resources in modifying their assessment mechanisms to measure against the stipulations of the National Standards.
    2. Parents of kids who are currently struggling will not be surprised by the confirmation that their kids are struggling
    3. Schools now have reduced resources to deal with the kids that we already know are struggling
    4. Parents of struggling kids will be unhappy, and because schools are actually communities, all their mates who have kids above the measurement line will be pissed off too.
    5. Key and Tolley will attempt to spin this as a problem with the teachers and their union, not their half-pai plan.

    Back to the implementation, my big problem is that multi-age learning groups, which has been the norm for my kids, is now going to become a defacto interim measure success against the standards, one that will be painfully obvious to all the kids.

    Throughout primary school, my kids would learn in groups associated with their level, and do tasks associated with the level of ability. It was normal to mix age groups up.

    In Tolley's half-arsed vision for our educational future, kids will work out that if they are in with pre-dominantly younger kids, it is because they are FAILING. What a shit message to send to our kids.

    My other problem is that I haven't been able to figure our what the standards will be for bilingual or immersion programmes. My son's primary school has three bilingual units (Maori, Samoan, French), and I think it is indicative of the blithe approach that Tolley has to her portfolio that these appear to have been neglected. You can't just map English-medium outcomes onto a bilingual programme, so I suppose my son (and his unit) run the risk of being measured as failures because of this - despite the fact that current research indicates that bilingualism results in markedly better outcomes in the learning of BOTH languages.

    Typical of many of the Key ministers - ignore the research, adhere to dogma instead.

    Tamaki Makaurau • Since Nov 2006 • 528 posts Report Reply

  • tim kong,

    I'm loving being back in the classroom after the summer break - despite all of this hoo-hah, we're getting on with it. Darel Hall's entry is well written and many in the thread have posted some great points. Some thoughts then...

    Like Tony, I despair somewhat at how this debate has changed from being one about improving student achievement, to one of teacher performance and school-wide success.

    IMO - the standards as they currently exist are a populist stance from a populist government that has to be seen to be "doing something". But credit where it's due - this government is only doing what it said it would.

    And for me - there's nothing innately wrong with standards per se. But there's so much looseness about what these particular standards are measuring, I'm struggling to see the point - beyond them being a political PR piece. There's definitely nothing revolutionary or extraordinary about them from an educational point of view.

    The policy appeals to the subconscious dislike of teachers - everyone has that "bad" teacher in their past. Key's comment about the NZEI protecting its own - is about taking on the liberal elite, the academics. The talk of confusion from parents about reporting using words like "stanine" and "numeracy" - are all about the perception of educators as arrogant folk who get uppity with their big words. Thus - "plain English reporting" is required - just to prove that us ordinary folk are as good as you teacher types.

    I don't deny that there are those types of teachers - who are disrespectful, arrogant and who abuse the privilege of their position. Parents and boards and communities should be applying pressure to them. But there are many hard-working, worthy individuals who are doing the best they can, with the resources they have to ensure the best for students all across the country.

    The standards policy and National's play on it appeals to the "gut" - it speaks truthiness to all of those who the Herald surveys and who call talkback, who truly believe the whole country has gone to hell in a handbasket.

    To my mind the argument about league tables is largely irrelevant. They already exist, they exist with our current decile system, and they exist in the prejudices that people already hold.

    The policy ignores the fact that 80% of our students ARE achieving and are leaving our education system with a base level of knowledge, empathy and ability to learn and re-learn.

    It ignores the reality of societal pressures and the expectations of what a school actually is meant to do and mean to the community that surrounds it.

    It ignores the simple fact that learning is a life-long, ongoing and pleasurable experience that is not purely measured in numbers or statistics.

    Education is political - what we stand in front of our young people and tell them, by its very nature has a political aspect to some degree. National is making their political statement with this policy.

    IMO, the NZEI must not take on the policy toe-to-toe. Taking strike action or stop-work meetings will only add fire the argument that teachers don't work enough and the "those who can't - teach" perspective. The standards are a blunt force weapon from a government that says it's "doing things" - but that is their privilege.

    The education sector must be more nuanced and more deliberate in its response. It matters not one bit if the sector wins a battle with Tolley - and loses the very children and young people we are charged with caring for.

    We (teachers, NZEI, PPTA, BOTs, communities, parents) need to directly address the issues that cause 20% of our students to fail within our system. It is being done, and we must not be distracted by a bus tour, or the leaflets from the National party. We need to be honest about where we're failing and continue to work hard to address the needs of each individual as best we can.

    We need to keep giving feedback to our students, sharing our knowledge, praising them as they strive to do better. We need to listen to them, be there for them, laugh with them, give them time and space to make mistakes. We need to respect and honour them and who they are. We need to believe in them and in our actions and how we interact with them - show them that belief. Each day. In short, we need to do all of that non-standard stuff that makes a young person, you know, a human.

    There is much this policy of national standards does not address. Instead of fighting what it is - we need to get on with being better than it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 153 posts Report Reply

  • stephen clover,

    I note with amusement that the Middleton Grange School for Bigotry and Religious Intolerance is situated at 50 Acacia Avenue, only a few doors down from Charlotte the Harlot:

    wgtn • Since Sep 2007 • 355 posts Report Reply

  • peter mclennan,

    "It's a quirk of the modern media world that we increasingly get our information from people who don't know anything."

    what, you mean like NZ Herald journalists who get people's names wrong repeatedly, like Pauley Fuemana (sic)?

    Took me three days of hassling to get the Herald to correct it (tried their Twitter address repeatedly, no response at all - social media FAIL), and then someone pointed me to another one... sigh....

    http://dubdotdash.blogspot.com/2010/02/more-on-pauly-fuemana-yesterday-sunday.html

    Clearly, spelling someone's name correctly is no longer a priority for the NZ Herald. And Pauly isn't around to complain about it.

    AK Central • Since Nov 2006 • 159 posts Report Reply

  • tim kong,

    Totally off thread - but I found this today, and needed to share.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/canada/comments/8zjv7/instructions_on_how_to_watch_thedailyshowcom/

    Firefox plugin and instructions to get around geo-blocking of sites like dailyshow.com, nbc.com and others.

    superb streaming quality for me. ymmv.

    apologies if it's been shared earlier

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 153 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    There is much this policy of national standards does not address. Instead of fighting what it is - we need to get on with being better than it.

    Thanks for this Tim, and for loving teaching in spite of everything.

    Russell alerted people to the mess that would happen in a post back in December 2008, when this policy went through all its stages under urgency in about 24 hours on the final sitting days before Christmas. No select committee hearing, no trialling. Such bad policy making. National standards will fade away eventually as just another fad like bulk funding, but teachers will still be teaching and students will still be learning.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3226 posts Report Reply

  • stephen clover,

    Thanks for this Tim, and for loving teaching in spite of everything.

    Hear hear.

    wgtn • Since Sep 2007 • 355 posts Report Reply

  • Gordon Dryden,

    This is the first time I have joined one of these on-air discussion forums. But it seems to me the debate is veering off the key "national standards" debate and into all sorts of obscure side alleys.

    So thanks to three latter contributors, Geoff Lealand, Tim Wong and Mikaere Curtis, for helping bring it back on track.

    To refresh: the current NZ debate revolves around the perception of primary school standards for literacy and numeracy.

    And, under both the former and new NZ curriculum guidelines, "literacy" and "numeracy" are included across all strands of the those guidelines. Thus "literacy" (under those guidelines) includes the way in which all students are required to use language in a wide variety of ways across all "subject areas": how to use language to research, inquire, analyse, speak, write, create, create television scripts, produce radio plays and not just to read books. To repeat: 21st-century literacy is Peter Jackson literacy—and many of our students and schools excel at it, to a standard that world educational visitors regularly applaud.

    This is entirely different to the US and similar "subject-based" curricula, where (as happened when I was at high school in NZ in the 1940s) "English exams" could easily be based on a series of questions based on a particular book, such as "The Merchant of Venice". Read and re-read the one book, answer a series of questions on it, in a once-a-year exam and, wow!, you've passed! Challenge "The Merchant of Venice" as anti-Semitic racism and you've failed! (It is probably the one Shakespeare play that would not be used today in US "standardised resting".

    And is it in the possible clash between the new National Curriculum Guidelines (on literacy) and the new "national standards" for "reading literacy" that I see huge potential conflict in the way in which schools and teachers are no required to teach and now "assess" whether each student has reached some sort of reading "norm". To me, that dumbs down the entire way in which 21st-century literacy is already inspiring a New Zealand cultural renaissance: Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh/Richard Taylor again. (Example: the last time I took eight Chinese Professors of Education to a leading New Zealand state primary school, they were blown away. First, an eight-year-old Korean boy, who a year before spoke no English, made them welcome with his multimedia presentation of New Zealand history: in English and Maori. Then he took them into his class of fellow eight-year-olds; and the first one was completing a multimedia quiz on the history of Tolkien and "Lord of The Rings". Then the visitors looked in at a class of six-year-olds, all working in multi-talented teams to edit, on computers, video they had shot, along with music they had composed and animations they had made. That is 21st-century literacy. And I suggest the majority of MPs and Ministers, if tested for these "national standards", would fail. When the Chinese professors drove away from the school, their first comment: "If China doesn't catch up with this, we'll be left behind.")

    In practical terms, we now know that every one of has a unique combination of learning styles, thinking styles and working styles as unique as our finger prints. Every good primary teacher I know in New Zealand is very familiar with research into "multiple intelligences" (Harvard Professor Howard Gardner's research), "learning styles" (a wide variety of research and practice in our country), and "thinking styles" (such as Edward De Bono's "Six Thinking Hats"—so that students learn the difference between using literacy skills to think logically, creatively, sequentially and in many other ways).

    Reduce those different abilities, passions and talents to simple one-dimensional "reading-literacy", and the dumbing down continues.

    At the same time, New Zealand (in my view) leads the world in marrying these concepts with interactive digital technology in learning and teaching.

    Let me give a practical example. The new NZ curriculum guidelines are, in some ways, very similar to aspects of the excellent International Baccalaureate Primary Years '"Inquiry" Program (which is much simpler). That program is more specific in that students in each grade explore six main themes a year (each six or seven weeks), such as "Planets of the universe", "Endangered species", "The human body" and "Oceans of the world". All other "subjects" (mathematics, science and "literacy" etc) are woven into those themes. And, more importantly, under the entire curriculum guidelines, students become open-minded discoverers and explorers; so that, in effect, they learn to tackle any problem, challenge or issue they face in life as, in effect, multimedia journalists.

    In fact, the IB program encourages all students to become great questioners (and not mere memorisers of information) and to absorb an entire ethos of open-ended, objective inquiry — and different creative ways of expressing their findings.

    This, in a variety of ways, is similar to the excellent system that Dr C E Beeby introduced into New Zealand primary education from the late 1930s and through the 1940s; and what then became the basis of the "Tomorrow's Schools" program of the 1990s.

    That latter program coincided with the development of personal computers, digital networks, and the entire array of interactive-technology multimedia tools that have emerged over the last 20 years.

    It is in this latter era that New Zealand schools have begun to lead the world in using digital technology as the catalyst to reinvent schooling.

    In particular this has led to excellent advances in learning through multi-talented teams — exactly as Jackson and his great movie and creative teams work; and have, in effect, reinvented Wellington.

    This is thus no mere "academic" debate.

    This is about the way in which the world is organised today — and, more importantly, tomorrow.

    All our best primary schools already lead in preparing our students for that world.

    And that includes some of our best low-decile schools with high Maori rolls (in the past, among our lowest "English test scorers") who now simply delight in blending their own music, dance, culture and song in with the new multi-talented digital technologies.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 30 posts Report Reply

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