This is definitely where we are heading

In teaching assessment is a valuable tool. We teachers use it to find out the learning needs of our students so that we might prepare lessons and learning that is best suited to them. Even if there have been a full set of assessments done on a child at the end of the previous year it is very useful to carry out your own assessments when the child newly enters your class. You get to see for yourself where their strengths and weaknesses lie, how they strategise, and how they think.

What assessment shouldn’t be used for is comparing the performance of one group of children with another group of children or comparing one school with another or one region with another.

However, with the “reform” of our unbroken education system and the complicity of the unquestioning main stream media, that is precisely what assessment (the National Standards assessment) is being currently used for in New Zealand.

Despite what Anne Tolley and National said way back at the start of this process, schools are now in competition with each other instead of collaborating with each other. National standards results are published and school performance can now be compared nationally. That is the neoliberal model of education. It is only a matter of time before teacher “performance” will be publicised in this way.

Primary aged school children are now part of the corporate educational conveyor belt being gobbled up at five and spat out at 17.

We have only just started our journey down the reform path in New Zealand. Other less fortunate countries – the UK, the United States, Chile – have been going down this road for many, many years. And where has it got them?

Here.

The government in Westminster has announced British four-year-olds will be given a compulsory exam when they begin “formal education.”

The Department for Education says it will introduce a new assessment of children’s abilities entering reception classes – when most will be four years old – from 2016, designed to give a baseline measure of each child’s abilities when they enter formal education.

As I said at the commencement of this piece, I have nothing against assessment. I have used assessment. I still use assessment. The problem I have with this assessment is two-fold.

Firstly, this plan is not coming from a classroom teacher, a school or even a local authority (schools are run by local government in the UK, not centralised). This edict has come from the Department for Education. All schools WILL administer this assessment. All children WILL take this assessment. Baseline data WILL be established. No choice at all.

Secondly, you, me and everyone else who has been following developments in all these “broken” education systems knows one thing: this data WILL be collected, it WILL be collated and children, schools and teachers WILL be rated using the numbers the testing provides.

But it’s their first test… there’s nothing to compare it to. Bzzzzzzzzz – wrong!

I’m a faceless bureaucrat, I’ve listed all the results for all the four-year-olds in my county what do I do now? Give the results to the teachers? Yes, possibly. What would my boss, Michael Gove want me to do? Well, I’ll send the results to the Daily Mail so that they can tell Britain how dumb Manchester four-year-olds are. I’ll also issue a regulation linking reception (new entrant) teachers’ pay to the performance of their students on the test we’ve decided they will take when they are five. I mean what’s the point of having some baseline data if you have nothing to compare it to. And kids love taking tests. That’s why they come to school.

If you read the rest of the article the DfE say schools can opt out and they can choose from a range of “approved” tests (don’t you dare use it if we don’t approve it!). It may start out this way, but that is not where it will end up.

Make no mistake about it. If the UK government want to be giving kids a test when they first enter school they are going to be definitely using it to rank, compare and criticise schools and teachers. That’s how the reformery work. Pick a group of children, test them, publish the results, then blame the educators. It may not happen at first, but it will happen. Just like National Standards were never going to be published here in New Zealand. And lo and behold, that’s what we get every year from Stuff.co.nz. I refuse to link to their webpage comparing schools because I believe it is so very damaging to education.

New Zealand has already started down this slippery slope. Hekia Parata loves her standards. Because her standards are a statistical nonsense at the moment (ie: not standardised), she needs them to be so she has been spending wasting millions developing the PaCT system which will be used by teachers from 2015 (no opt out from this) to mark their national standards so that they are (finally) both national and standardised.

The next step is a national exam for Year 4, Year 6 and Year 8 children (they will tell us PaCT is not standard enough because there is too much teacher input). The step after that is many tests for many levels.

The next step is testing kids when they enter school.

After all… baseline data is important for our teachers to improve learning outcomes etc etc blah blah blaaaah.

I know from personal experience that kids turn up to school when they are five with a vast range of skills. Some are able to read and write, others there is nothing. No number recognition. No words. No letters. Nothing. I don’t have to reference that. I’m seeing it with my own eyes daily. Quite often they do not ever catch up to their peers. How fair is it

As I said last week (and the week before and probably all the way through last year as well), if you want an education system where constant testing is inflicted on children, then that’s what you voted for if you accept what National are saying about education.

All I ask you is this: Would you want your 5 year old sitting a government set exam as soon as they start school and those results to be published by Fairfax on their awesome school comparison website? If not you absolutely must vote against National in September.

Because THAT is definitely the education system they want for your children.

Mr B.

Sources:

Schools will be allowed to test four-year-olds from 2016, government confirms: Guardian – March 27, 2014

New national curriculum: primary assessment and accountability: http://www.gov.uk – March 27, 2014

Labour suggests law change over primary standards: NZ Herald – June 29, 2009

The stupid PaCT system: TKI.

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