Shonky Data and Shabby Journalism – Must Be National Standards Time Again


“There is a unanimous expert opinion

– even among those championing the potential of the National Standards –

that it would be very foolish indeed to make judgments about any school

on the basis of their results.”  (Source)

Soon we will be treated to another battery of shonky data from The Ministry of Education.

TDB Recommends

Bruce Slane cartoon: Food 4 Thought.
Bruce Slane cartoon: Food 4 Thought.
John Key trumpets that “National Standards in education are a critical part of the National-led plan for securing a brighter future for New Zealand children”.   Just how, Mr Key?  Tell us how crappy data, poorly reported, helps us towards a brighter future.   Because it doesn’t give us a whole lot of faith when some assessment tools are widely reported to give inflated results and one this week announced that “new mapping has been applied to existing test results… you will notice that the curriculum levels have moved down – usually by one or two curriculum sub-levels. ”  What?

So let me get this right…  Teachers are spending hours and hours assessing kids’ work using tools approved by the Ministry.  The Ministry then decides the tools are not accurate or reliable. The end grades are then moved up and down by the Ministry (seemingly more often than whore’s drawers, and possibly with less shame).   And then the results are published as if they mean something useful…

Give me a break.

None of this, of course, will stop the mainstream media and some unscrupulous bloggers jumping at the chance to write inflammatory and sensationalist pieces based on these data points. Never mind who it worries or panics, and never mind how accurate or responsible the reporting is.  Never mind that the writer has little to no understanding of the processes behind the collection of the data or how unreliable it is.

Who cares?!  Great headline = more papers sold = success.  Right?

Isn’t everything okay so long as someone makes some money out of it somehow?

The Herald have already set a nice low standard with this shabby journalism last year, that chose to focus on the lowest of the three collected figures (figures that I reiterate are not even reliable) and make totally unstartling non-revelations such as that the English language changes and moves over time and that this affects how people write.  Oh well, thanks for that useful insight.  Give that outstanding journalist a charter school to run!

And is it really news that our poorest students or Pasifika and Maori students or students with English as a second language are playing catch-up?  Teachers know this.  Parents know this.  As Edendale School principal David McKenzie said:  “Numbers conceal human beings with all the events that shape and make up their lives.”

It’s what we are doing about those most in need – or NOT doing – that’s the real issue.  Does anything about National Standards help the eduction system find answers?  Not on your life.   Meanwhile, great programmes such as Te Kotahitanga that has proven results in closing the gap for Maori and Pasifika students, have been given the chop.  Funding for special needs kids is pitiful.   A quarter of our kids live in poverty.  Tell me again how this makes sense?

National Standards data will slither along making its own mark as it is used to wrongly judge schools, teachers and even the students themselves thanks to poor understanding and even poorer reporting.

Parents, this is my message to you.  Be very wary of judging schools on this data.  Because let’s face it – you can ‘weigh the pig’ as often as you like, you can record the results in any way you want, and you can write all the news articles in the world – if the weighing scales were faulty in the first place, what does that tell anyone?

Get into your local school.  Visit – see it in action and get a feel for it.  Talk to your children about their learning.   Apply for a place on the Board of Trustees in the coming elections.  Be involved.

Don’t wait for a once yearly batch of data to inform you: it won’t.



  1. Excellent Dianne. Let’s hope that this message gets out to Joe and Joan Public, so that they understand how our treasured education system is being screwed for political ends.

  2. Without disagreeing with the subject matter per se, it’s a shame to be using derogatory terms for sex workers to make a point

    • Just to clarify, a sex worker is a prostitute. A whore is something else entirely. It was not meant as a slur against prostitutes.

  3. Thanks, Dianne. I appreciate that you remind people that most teachers are not against National Standards, but against how they are used. They can give really useful information for the parents, the teacher and the school as long as they are not the focus -and, as you say, as long as the testing is fair in the first place.

    • But I am against them. I am not against testing – not at all, it’s very useful and totally necessary. But National Standards is another issue entirely – they serve very little purpose and cause an unmentionable amount of harm. The publishing of them even more-so, Testing should be done in the classroom, monitored within syndicates, within schools, within clusters and by educators, not chomped by the Ministry to its own end.

      • It is so utterly ignorant that as we learn more and more about learning behaviours and how conventional teaching systems fail a large number of visual spatial learners & right brain thinkers etc that it now seems the government/Ministry of Education is now taking it a step further and formulating an educational system to teach in one style with no variation – no you are not to encourage your child to be an artist – yes the government would prefer you gave birth to robot children

  4. Texas Republicans have been kind enough to lay bare their reasoning for National Standards emphasis on rote learning. Their education policy opposes the “teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills” and “critical thinking skills.” This sort of teaching is known to “focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” Shonkey and his mates would be hard pressed to admit that this is their agenda, but are quite clear in seeking an educational system focused on producing compliant workers with just the right balance of skills. For more

Comments are closed.