Pretty Sub-standard

This week three things happened – four if you count the fact I finished and handed in my reports for marking.

Within a three-day period of media slam, a comprehensive range of reports from different quarters indicated that national standards are increasing teacher workload for not much gain, narrowing the curriculum, and New Zealand are underperforming in the international rankings.

Let’s take the first bit of research. In the olden days – back when Labour were in charge and National could blame them for everything (note: sentence to be read sarcastically since they still do blame them for everything), Otago University used to carry out research into how New Zealand children performed in certain curriculum areas. It was called the National Education Monitoring Programme which rotated – one year it would test technology and maths, the next it would look into writing and listening.

In their infinite wisdom as purveyors of fine education policy, the National-led government scrapped this project. Then, after realising they actually want hard data on educational achievement to back up their neoliberal gibbering, they reinstated it as the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement. A differently formed and much harder to pronounce acronym with exactly the same university doing exactly the same type of research.

How much money was wasted with that stupid decision?

This week NMSSA released their report into the achievement of New Zealand children in science and writing. Here’s a quote from the Radio New Zealand report into the release:

The study by the University of Otago and the Council for Educational Research says Year 8 children should be writing at curriculum level 4, but it found only 35% at or above that level. The majority were below curriculum level 4, with most at levels 3 or 2.

In science, the results were even worse, with about 80% of those in Year 8 falling short of the expected level.

Now these sorts of results would be concerning for any government – especially one that has staked its entire educational policy direction on the misuse of data. What was their reaction?

On the morning this first featured on Radio New Zealand our esteemed minster said she wasn’t commenting because, “she hadn’t read the report yet.”

This is interesting – in the “OH MY GOD!” way rather than the “hmmmm (scratches chin)” way. You’d think an education minister could be bothered reading some research of this calibre?

On Thursday came the news that national standards have created much more work for teachers with little in the way of benefits. This study was from the Council for Educational Research and commissioned by the NZEI. The survey of found just 7% of principals and 15% of teachers saw the standards as “robust” and that:

…60 percent of teachers and 70 percent of principals say National Standards have meant more work for little gain.

On the positive side, the report suggests teachers are having more professional development based around assessment and moderating assessment more common and valued by teachers. Working in a small school myself moderating and working with the other teachers are a key aspect of getting to know the kids I will inherit next year. It’s also a great way of celebrating the achievements of the children. In saying that, to moderate properly is a massively time-consuming process that is incredibly hard to complete in the tired haze that follows the daily bus departure at 3pm.

How did our minister respond to this piece of research? Since it was paid for by the union, the research was bound to turn out the findings it did.

Excellent work again minister.

Then on Friday the New Zealand Herald reported the contents of a speech given by Hekia Parata where she indicated that New Zealand will slip down the PISA rankings when the latest numbers are released this week. That’s right – slip down.

According to the latest international PISA education league table – the ultimate education league table – from the OECD, New Zealand 15 year olds are falling down the rankings compared with other countries.

How has Hekia responded? She has put the New Zealand result down to better performing “Asian” countries who have improved faster  than we have. You can read the full text of her speech here. (I challenge you to read through the whole thing without being aggrieved in some way. It would be worth pulling it apart, but that will be for another blog).

There are a myriad of points to be made, but mostly it comes down to this: you cannot base your entire educational policy on collection and use of data and then reject the data when it comes back PROVING your policies are failing.

Yes the PISA data is rubbish because it tests different things in different countries and actually guesses approximates scores of items not tested in one country but testing in another (if you don’t believe me, read this from the Guardian). What the National government have done is trumpeted our “failings” using this data and implemented a range of policies they claim will “fix” the problem. Then when it doesn’t go your way, throw your polices out of the cot.

You can’t have it both ways.

But politicians have never been ones to shy away from hypocrisy or double standards.

As we are heading into an election year you will need to watch and listen closely to National. They will be ever so sneaky as they try to slip in things like the PaCT tool (yet more assessment tools!!) and performance pay based on the achievement of your students against national standards (they won’t be able to do that until the next contract negotiation in 2 years or so).

We must hold them to account. If we value a rich, authentic curriculum which prepares New Zealand children for the world that actually exists then any policy being issued by National will actually achieve the exact opposite.

Data is beginning to support this eventuality.

If, God forbid, National lead a third term government after the election next year, you can bet our quality public education system will be rapidly and ruthlessly dismantled.


Bad report for Year 8s in writing and science: Radio NZ, 27 November, 2013.

National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement: Otago University, 2013.

Teachers find little gain in national standards: Radio NZ, 29 November, 2013.

Media Release: Insights into the Impact of National Standards in Schools: NZCER, 29 November, 2013.

NZ education facing a bad report: NZ Herald, 30 November, 2013

The OECD’s PISA Delivery Man: The Guardian, 26 November, 2013.

Speech to Iwi Leaders Forum: Hekia Parata, 28 November, 2013.


2 responses

  1. Brilliantly said, Boonman. Thank you.


  2. Thanks – very well written.


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