The Dim-Post

September 25, 2012

The fantasy and reality of national standards

Filed under: education — danylmc @ 8:05 am

Via the Herald:

The majority of people polled think schools should publicly release their national standards performance data.

Results from a Herald-Digipoll survey showed 60.3 per cent of people agreed that schools should be forced to release the information.

However, NZ Principals Federation president Paul Drummond said he had spent years telling people why teachers felt the information would not be credible.

The opposition to National Standards has been based on the principle that lots of similar countries have tried this and it always turns into a disaster, but I think this opposition to the idea of national standards has diluted the criticism of the actual policy as implemented by Anne Tolley and Hekia Parata.

The case for national standards is that parents should be provided with meaningful information about schools so they can make informed choices about their children’s education. But National hasn’t done that – instead they’ve provided meaningless information so that parents can make uninformed, and possibly terrible choices about their children’s education. I’m not sure why they’ve done this, but they have, and the Prime Minister has been pretty relaxed about admitting so.

Here’s a graph showing the results of the individual schools performance weighted for decile (I’ll put the methodology in the comments section). It shows roughly similar outcomes across the deciles and a huge range of variation within the deciles. But the raw data doesn’t show this – so will the government’s policy cause people to take their kids out of a high performing decile one school and move them to a low performing decile five school, say, thus reducing the quality of their education? Probably. I also suspect we’ll see problems based on the narcissism of small differences: people seeing that other local schools have higher – but statistically meaningless – results, and moving their children there because they want their kids to have ‘the best school.’ That’ll happen even if the data is robust, but because of National’s incompetence, many of those parents will be moving their children out of good schools – which are close to where they live and filled with their friends – and into bad schools.

(That decile 2 school at the top – technically the ‘best school in the country’ – is the small, mostly Maori Bluff Community School. Congratulations guys.)

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37 Comments »

  1. You’ve got this one a bit twisted. Nobody has been saying “The case for national standards is that parents should be provided with meaningful information about schools so they can make informed choices about their children’s education”. The intention (however poorly implemented) was that standards would provide parents good information on the progress of their children. The process is supposed to help identify gaps in a child’s learning. Teachers have been complaining that the information would be used to look at a school’s performance, which the data was never supposed to do. So it is possible that the information is working well in the context it was designed for but the unintended (and obvious) consequences are that it is giving parents shoddy information about schools’ achievements.

    Comment by Phil — September 25, 2012 @ 8:28 am

  2. I’m just hoping that the other schools in my area (i.e. the ones I’m not intending to send my daughter too) have slightly higher apparent scores so that all the graspers and climbers send their kids there.

    Comment by Thomas Beagle — September 25, 2012 @ 8:48 am

  3. OK – you (like so many) miss the point.

    This programme is long term. Next year each school will be expected to improve its results, and the year after, and the year after, etc.
    Yes – the results are not moderated yet – but they will be.

    And as time goes by the questions will have to be asked of schools and teachers. “why do you still have 33% under achieving”. Are you ignoring the basics and putting too much time into other things? Do you have useless teachers? etc, etc. This will lead to individual teacher assesments and questions to each teacher and the result will be……. removal of useless teachers.
    And the putting of more time into these basics….( because no matter what you are going to do for the rest of your life you will need to be able to read and write and do basic adding/subtracting. You cant get a forklift license if you cant do these, you cant get any industrial job if you cant do all these – and this is at the basic level of employment.)

    And dont forget each parent gets the ranking of their children within the school. Thats the really important aspect of this. Instead of crappy comments like “Johnny is a joy to have in class” which could mean hes doing well – or he too stupid to learn anything but he keeps quiet and lets me get on with other students.

    Comment by barry — September 25, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  4. The point of national standards is to provide a database to justify charter school and performance pay, which is a tollto break the teacher’s union.

    The teacher’s union is one of the prime concentrations of leftwing thought and power in this country. National’s education policy is about destroying the left’s ability to oppose it by destroying its power bases, just as its labour policy is about destroying the private sector unions and its state sector policy is about destroying the PSA.

    Comment by Deano — September 25, 2012 @ 9:27 am

  5. Nice barry, now how do you teach “the basics” (a cutely nostalgic concept) in a way that an individual child, who isn’t responding well to the teaching method that the teacher has to use in order to best cover the largest number of kids for the standards, can respond to?

    Comment by Chris Bull — September 25, 2012 @ 9:42 am

  6. deano – add in that its also one of the steps the far right feel is important to steer us towards fully privatised education and youve got it in a nutshell.

    *hell – i think theres even a document that pretty much sets out the steps – (but buggered if i know what its called or where it can be found). From memory, the changes Nact have been implementing are in perfect harmony with the order the steps are laid out

    *this is a big “from memory” – it was a while back and just saw passing comments so could be wrong here

    Comment by framu — September 25, 2012 @ 10:11 am

  7. Phil – “The intention (however poorly implemented) was that standards would provide parents good information on the progress of their children. The process is supposed to help identify gaps in a child’s learning.”

    I’m not sure where you got that idea. Standards don’t require me to identify gaps at all and are not moderated to ensure the mark given is accurate across the whole country. All it requires is that I say if a child is Above or Below an abritrary line. It doesn’t require me to say anything about why I put that child there.

    However, previous to this I was using a range of tests that are robust and respected and provide specific areas of concern for me to teach and let parents know about. So why has it been made worse? Because some schools weren’t doing it properly? Which ones, and was ERO not making any progress on improving their use of assessment?

    Barry – “This programme is long term. Next year each school will be expected to improve its results, and the year after, and the year after, etc.”

    Unlike the way we looked at results and attempted to improve our results before these Standards were given?

    ” Yes – the results are not moderated yet – but they will be.”

    We already have a wide range of moderated tests that are used across most of the country. We WERE moderating and now aren’t. These previous tests (PAT, STAR, asTTle, etc) also gave details of specific areas within subjects that required work, whereas the standards don’t. So why are we adding something new?

    So the Ministry can justify shipping out a set test for everyone. Which leads to teaching to the test, ignoring creativity, focusing only on making sure those near th eline cross it rather than moving the really low. Or at least, that’s what every teacher I know with English experience is saying, because its what happened to them. England is now dismantling that system, because things were getting worse.

    “This will lead to individual teacher assesments and questions to each teacher and the result will be……. removal of useless teachers.”

    New Zealand’s education system is performing incredibly well. Why do people seem to keep harping on about ‘useless teachers’? We are assessed by ERO, our School, and have to be Registered with a certain base criteria. Do people complain about Doctors in this way, despite their training and professional bodies? Should we start keeping a list of exactly how many people got sick under each GP?

    Do you really think we are deliberately ignoring the basics? Children can’t function through College if they can’t do those basics. They can’t get through my year’s subjects if they aren’t at the right step. How do these Standards help me help those low ability learners in ANY way? I already know who’s low. I know what part of Numeracy is causing them issues. I am applying for help, sending them to recovery programmes, talking to their parents, trying new lessons. How does making my job dependant on the results of my whole class on a set test imply that I will help that one better?

    “And dont forget each parent gets the ranking of their children within the school. Thats the really important aspect of this. Instead of crappy comments like “Johnny is a joy to have in class” which could mean hes doing well – or he too stupid to learn anything but he keeps quiet and lets me get on with other students.”

    What on earth are you talking about? You certainly do not get a ranking for Johnny. You get told ‘Johnny is Above in reading, At the Standard in Writing but Well below in Maths. Good luck figuring out if that means multiplication, geometry, place value or remembering maths terms. Oh, and if it turns out that he has a huge difficulty recognising the purpose of a piece of writing, well, that’s not part of what we’re telling you.’

    Comment by Aaron — September 25, 2012 @ 11:04 am

  8. Aaron – well said, sir. Many people, including Barry, seem to be ignorant of the fact that we ALREADT HAD a range of tests used for assessing children’s progress, such as the STAR reading assessments and the ASTTLE writing assessments. And we had an excellent mechanism, in the form of the ERO review process, for identifying how well schools are operating and taking specific and useful measures to address problems.

    Comment by Carol — September 25, 2012 @ 11:15 am

  9. PS apologies for typos.

    Comment by Carol — September 25, 2012 @ 11:16 am

  10. Aaron: You have covered it all. At the Top of the Standard. It is such a pity that discussion with the hard liners supporting National Standards cannot take place. Can’t see Phil or Barry conceding anything from their views.

    Thomas Beagle @ 2. Agreed. My view about Gated Communities too.

    Danyl. Great Graph. Seems that the lower decile schools have the task with those Long Tails but otherwise similar standards as the others. (Some teachers reckon that the Decile 10 kids get a bit smug and complacent and underachieve, but that won’t show.) Would be great if your graph/data had a wider audience. How?

    Comment by xianmac — September 25, 2012 @ 11:26 am

  11. Chris Bull & Aaron etc.

    Theres no doubt about it – if you had your way we would continue producing 20 – 30% of children who are unable to fully participate in society because they cant adequately read, write and do basic maths.
    I dont think thats good enough – especially when you look back 30 or 40 years and the literacy levels then were higher than they are now.

    Comment by barry — September 25, 2012 @ 11:42 am

  12. “Aaron – well said, sir” – seconded

    Comment by framu — September 25, 2012 @ 11:43 am

  13. OK – Barry, you (like so many) miss the point.
    There is nothing in “National Standards” that assesses teachers, it assesses students, (although there are far better assessment tools already in existence). Take a look at this video ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-ptsrdyxBE ) to learn why trying to assess teachers by assessing students is ridiculous and statistically invalid. “National Standards” can never be accurately moderated because the variables (actual human beings) are constantly changing. A teacher’s class changes every year and even evolves throughout the year, different sexes, different abilities, different ages, ESOL students, different class dynamics.
    If you want to assess a teacher… you have to actually assess the teacher, judging them on the results of the students they have in one year is nonsense, invalid, and totally unfair.
    The only consistent data that comes out of all research Barry is that children in poverty struggle to reach their potential.

    And as time goes by Barry the questions will have to be asked of the Government. “why do you still have 33% of children living in poverty”. Are you ignoring the basics and putting too much time into other things? Do you have useless policies? etc, etc. This will lead to individual party assessments and questions to each politician and the result will be……. removal of the useless Government.

    Comment by Alan — September 25, 2012 @ 11:45 am

  14. Aaron, absolutely. I wasn’t commenting on the actual implementation of the standards or even the standards themselves, we all know that they are woolly, aspirational and not moderated and therefore any comparison of data is stupid. What we were sold by the ministry/ministers was that the standards would be a tool for letting parents know how their particular child was doing and not for data gathering or comparing schools.

    Of course there were lots of tools already available to do this and interested parents were already pretty aware of their child’s progress. There are literacy and numeracy progressions and that asttle thingy and they were more than adequate.

    Xianmac – maybe I wasn’t clear but if you read what I wrote you would see that I wasn’t supporting the standards at all. My issue is that Danyl is mischaracterising the line of spin the govt has been preaching – they have not talked about getting meaningful info about schools but about getting meaningful info about your children, very different things. Whether they have achieved this is another matter.

    Comment by Phil — September 25, 2012 @ 11:53 am

  15. Also, please stop with the charts, the data is seriously flawed, it is not moderated and there is no way of checking consistency between schools therefore any chart is meaningless.

    Comment by Phil — September 25, 2012 @ 11:57 am

  16. did you even read aarons reply to you barry?

    It pretty much spells out in very plain english that 1) your assumptions about NS are wrong and 2) we already do heaps of much better student assesment and have a better educational outcome than the other countries whose methods we are now adopting.

    Does that mean we cant do better? – of course not
    Does that mean no-ones interested in doing better? – of course not
    Does that mean using a flawed system imported from countries that do worse than us is going to fix everything? – of course, not

    Comment by framu — September 25, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

  17. Also Barry please stop regurgitating National Party lies
    “20 – 30% of children who are unable to fully participate in society because they cant adequately read, write and do basic maths.”
    Nonsense. Show me one piece of evidence… by the way “John said so” is not evidence.

    Comment by Alan — September 25, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  18. Barry, where did you get your data on literacy levels? The area is a very complex one and if you haven’t worked with literacy data before it’s easy to appear like a fool, which you are. Literacy demands are rising and you now require a higher level of literacy to function in society than 30 years ago. teachers are already identifying students that are falling behind, we have learning progressions for adults in NZ and I’m pretty sure they have a similar set of benchmarks for kids. so the problem is not that teachers don’t know who the struggling kids are and it’s pretty clear that they want to help so what do you think might be holding them back? Might it be wider social problems? Nutrition? Lack of resourcing and dedicated literacy support? Will standards help any of these issues?

    Comment by Phil — September 25, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

  19. The best school is bound to be a small school. This is a classic case of the Small Numbers Fallacy. The worst school will also be a small school. Every year. (But the clue is that it won’t be the same schools each year.)

    Comment by DavidW — September 25, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

  20. Barry. How do you know (believe) that reading standards were better years ago? I think that the only test being used decades ago was the Schonell Word Recognition Test. Miles away from current Assessments at least up till NS. And also Barry no matter what you do you will not get rid of the lower achievement levels. Once you create averages the data must have above and below.

    Phil. Sorry if I misread your comments. To have better individual pupil progressions is good but the information for NS is gathered from the Assessment tools which have been used for decades. So the information was there and available. (But it was not always in the interest of the child to expose that data. Pushy parents can traumatise kids with unreal expectations.) And people learn in a series of lurches rather than a nice tidy progression.
    I like your comments at No 15. :)

    Comment by xianmac — September 25, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

  21. 15. “Meaningless charts are better than no charts!” says big fan of Michael Mann.

    (Yes, yes, off topic I know, but still there’s statistics… )

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 25, 2012 @ 1:27 pm

  22. No worries xianmac. The data thing is driving me crazy! It’s exactly what we all knew would happen when they released it.

    The NS could have been useful if they involved a review of all the assessment taking place and what info parents are getting and how to clarify it all. It is possible that some parents weren’t getting clear, standardised information about literacy and numeracy and that there are too many assessments cluttering the learning environment but NS do nothing to fix that.

    Comment by Phil — September 25, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

  23. MMmmmm………

    Im getting the feeling that people like Copernicus did when he said that – “Ahem – the world isnt the centre of the universe – the sun is”

    Well didnt they tell him that he didnt know what he was talking about. The church was also the government in those days and they threw everything at him…….Condemned to hell for enterenity they said.

    that didnt stop him being right

    Comment by barry — September 25, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  24. yes barry – evaluating the merits and purposes of NS is just like arguing that the earth goes round the sun

    Comment by framu — September 25, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

  25. Poor Barry – so misunderstood – battling for the cause of literacy. Why don’t these experienced primary school teachers care as much about literacy levels as he does? Why won’t they concede that he knows more about how to improve these levels than they do? He’s just so oppressed with his vague statements drawing from his gut feeling and prejudices, which is just exactly how Copernicus figured out that the Earth goes round the sun and doesn’t at all resemble quasi-religious, unscientific received wisdom drawn from predetermined beliefs.

    Comment by Tui — September 25, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

  26. “that didnt stop him being right”
    Um, except that the sun isn’t at the centre of the universe, Barry.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 25, 2012 @ 5:31 pm

  27. Nice comment Aaron. Always good to hear from people who know what they’re talking about.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — September 25, 2012 @ 7:38 pm

  28. Aaron: Should we start keeping a list of exactly how many people got sick under each GP?

    Excellent analogy, and sadly, not far-fetched. Note Ryall’s ludicrous and risibly pointless DHB “performance chart” comparisons regularly published to a bemused public.

    It’s government by talk-back. Dumb kids who don’t even know their twelve times table and not being able to get my hip done next week were the issues of the day, and competition the solution to everything. Simple. No wonder the PM’s relaxed. (Dole bludgers figures large too of course, but a tricky one with so many callers on IB, SB and Super: slowly and stealthily on this one)

    Comment by ak — September 25, 2012 @ 8:43 pm

  29. Barry has a point

    we should test all school leavers on their ability to drive a forklift. No need for national standards.

    A population of gifted fork lift drivers. Oh joy!

    BTW I have been a fully qualified fork lift driver (ow lapsed0.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — September 25, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

  30. Is there not some Godwin-related law about comparing oneself to Copernicus (or, more commonly, Galileo or Semmelweis)?

    Comment by Nick — September 25, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

  31. BTW I have been a fully qualified fork lift driver
    As they say in Pidgin, draiva bilong pork.

    Comment by Joe W — September 25, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

  32. Barry, that’s Galileo you’re thinking of. Copernicus was never persecuted by the Catholic Church.

    Comment by Peer reviewer — September 25, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

  33. I’m sorry for the laziness of my post but I simply wanted to say I entirely agree with Danyl’s statement that “But National hasn’t done that – instead they’ve provided meaningless information so that parents can make uninformed, and possibly terrible choices about their children’s education”. The contrast with the data available through the Australia myschools site is stark. NZ has chosen to provide immeasurably poorer data.

    Comment by Paul Williams (@psbwilliams) — September 25, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

  34. I would just like to point out that the data released on the National Standards are the results from Term 2 this year not an aggregation of all the results so far. Schools only started reporting their results to the Ministry in 2012. As the standards are what kids are supposed to reach by the end of the year, kids are doing pretty well so far and we should expect better figures in Term 4. Personally, I shift my students towards the lower end, if I can do so fairly, halfway through the year so that they have something to work towards. I know my students and lot of them would just arse about if they thought they were already at or above the standard…which the majority of them are if were totally honest.

    Comment by lucyib — September 26, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

  35. Lucy – That’s a very good point, I hadn’t even thought of that.

    Comment by Aaron — September 26, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

  36. >I know my students and lot of them would just arse about if they thought they were already at or above the standard

    Classic, that so fits the bill of most kids when I was at school. Actually it’s not far off a lot of adults in workplaces too. Workplace measures are as often used to goof off as they work as inspiration to work harder. Especially when the staff know the numbers are shite and they have no influence over them, or can fiddle them, often in collusion with their boss, who wants to look like they’re a legend.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — September 26, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

  37. Hmm. NS has sorely backfired if it was not meant to become a simple school-comparing exercise. I’m guessing that many other parents, like myself, have before now not bothered (or known how) to compare schools, All this publicity has provided stimulus and a simple, if apparently disingenous and even downright misleading method of comparing.

    Interesting point about motivating kids over the year by down-playing their performance. Wish I’d had a bit more of that coupled with more of a challenge than the cruise school was for me. That is the other risk of putting in the effort on improving the lower tail’s performance. For this reason I think streaming within schools is a good idea. Perhaps “streaming” of schools is an unintended effect of the decile spread of performances (lower deciles concentrating on pulling up lower achievers, whilst those without the drag of hunger and lack of attention can better be helped as a group?).
    Just thinking out loud.
    The possible causative failing in learning due the screen-induced attention span issue raised here (or possibly in another discussion), I thought was an interesting idea worth pursuing. Yet fails to compute if the upper deciles with all their seemingly unlimited access to screens 24/7 and absent (high flier) working parents are considered. It’s surely not just the price of your smartphone that indicates (or dictates, or even predicts) your academic performance!?!
    More likely a combination of aptitude and attitude, modeled by can-do parenting.

    Comment by Bruce M — September 28, 2012 @ 8:38 pm


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