In previous articles, I’ve covered the Ministry of Education’s apparent fiddling with standardised tests results (e-asTTle and STAR) to boost National Standards results.
Over the last few weeks, Kelvin Smythe has been digging away through OIA documents, and other information, which he has developed into five articles. I have used these as the basis for this posting, and all quotes have been taken from these articles.
The aggregated results on the overall ‘achievement’ of children against national standards were due to be released at the end to May, but this was put back until June 10. Why?
Would this decision have anything to do with the negative publicity, including the article in the NZ Listener, articles written by Kelvin Smythe, articles in the Daily Blog and other blogs, and questions asked in Parliament by NZ First MP Tracey Martin, a Board of Trustees chairperson in her other life?
Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye, on behalf of the Minister, fielded Tracey’s questions. She blustered her way through the answers, although her ability to obfuscate runs way below the Minister’s unique style.
There are a number of issues that fall out of Kelvin’s articles. The first is that any national standards results released this year, will be of very low validity, not that they had much validity in the first place. This will not stop the government claiming all sorts of wonders or failures depending on their particular agenda.
The biggest outright lie is that New Zealand’s education is failing. The scurrilous statements made by that paragon of virtue John Banks in the charter schools debate in parliament about the lack of professionalism of New Zealand teachers, their failure to teach children and the ‘dominance’ of the teacher unions adds to this.
Put your money where your mouth is, John, and produce the evidence, or have you forgotten where it is?
I detailed the real achievement of New Zealand teachers and education in this article How true are National Party claims that our public education system is failing students?
The claim that 20% of children are failing cannot be substantiated. A commonly used benchmark is that 20% are not completing NCEA Level 2 (equates to University Entrance in the old language.) Where is the research that shows that this is a definitive measure? That this will guarantee success in life? Similar arguments are used in other GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) countries, again without any evidential base.
As with the notion that a limited set of national standards is the ‘be all to end all’, the same applies to the belief that ticking off the standards to pass NCEA will solve all problems – a subject for a future blog.
The evidence about New Zealand’s success in education is very easy to find.
For example, here’s some information from the OECD Child Well Being in Rich Countries report:
Whoops, do I see the figure of 16% there? Rather close to that 20% claim about educational failure? Just whose failure should we be highlighting?
Returning to Nikki Kaye’s answers in parliament:
It is clear from the OIA documents, regardless of Nikki Kaye’s protestations to the contrary, that the e-asTTle test is viewed as an anchor for the development of teachers overall judgements:
‘When making OTJs, schools want to be able to use the e-asTTle score as an “anchor” measurement for determining what a student can do independently.’
As e-asTTLe is the only standardised tool to test children’s achievement in written language, the results are pivotal to the overall judgement process, not withstanding the sound pedagogical objections to the notion of standardising the art of writing.
Kaye’s replies in Parliament also revealed an underlying deceit – the changes to the e-asTTle ratings were made during the summer school closures.
If these e-asTTle changes were so innocuous then why were they hidden? Kaye stated that these changes were made in consultation with education professionals. Which professionals were those, Nikki? Your tame academics and staff members in the Ministry? The quislings that Kelvin Smythe has identified in the New Zealand Principals’ Federation?
But wait, there’s more.
‘Kaye then agreed that there had also been a retrospective online adjustment downward of e-asTTle marks without schools being informed in advance. She then issued a kind of apology, saying that the ministry had always called the implementation of national standards a work in progress. Kaye then reiterated that the e-asTTle was not flawed.’
Let’s analyse this:
e-asTTle results were rescaled to change children’s achievement levels.
Schools were not informed in advance (or before national standards data was submitted to the Ministry of Education.
National standards are a work in progress.
e-asTTle is not flawed.
Points 1 and 4: If e-asTTle is not flawed, why rescale the results? If e-asTTle is but one tool for helping teachers make judgements about achievement against standards, why was it necessary to rescale results?
Why were schools not informed in advance? Why were the changes made when schools were closed?
The most significant point is that ‘national standards are a work in progress.’ This is indisputably true. So, then, why is the faulty data being used to define student and school progress in ‘raising achievement’? Garbage in, garbage out?
Underpinning this, is the development of the Orwellian Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT) online software that will magically turn teachers’ subjective judgements into objective rankings against national standards.
Forget any hype you’ve heard and read about the government’s desire to avoid the issues of a nationwide testing system such as NAPLAN in Australia. PaCT is standardised testing on hyperdrive and has the potential to be far more damaging to children’s education (as opposed to schooling) than a biennial test like NAPLAN.
The Ministry has confirmed that PaCT will be compulsory in 2015.
The workload implications for teachers are horrendous. Parents – do you want your child’s teacher to be putting her/his energies into planning and teaching, or to spend up to 40 minutes per child entering PaCT data on the computer?
Welcome to the National led government’s view of education for the 21st century.
Kelvin’s two articles about e-asTTle, referenced above, go into much more detail.
‘The argument is that quantitative academics, for instance, the ones behind national standards (which very much includes PaCT) are ‘mad scientists’. Around them is usually bunched a lesser group of researchers, the minor ‘mad scientists. ‘Mad scientists’ can be defined as a group of‘ scientifically-based individuals, entirely focused on the project in hand, ‘apparently’ mindless of the moral and ethical implications of that project.’
‘We all know the national standards results are rubbish, in fact the education system is awash with rubbish: from national standards to NCEA internal tests. It is what happens when school education becomes highly politicised. This government doesn’t care. Indeed, it is going so far as to set up a system of schools that will fake results left right and centre; schools for which faking is the whole point of the exercise, first faking the socio-economic status of the students who attend, then faking the results.’
One aspect of the national standards and PaCT debacle has been the apparent complicity of some executive members of the New Zealand Principals Federation (NZPF). This goes right back to before the 2008 general election. National’s intent was very clear, but there seemed to be an attitude of ‘we can handle this.’
A month before the election I was at a meeting of principals where one of the speakers was then National Party Spokesperson on Education, Anne Tolley. While her delivery was all wrapped up in cotton wool, the underlying messages were very clear. Well, I thought they were – for example the intention to make national standards data available to the media, and therefore league tables would result – yet it seemed that I was one of the few who heard this. My concerns about this, and other aspects were dismissed. Instead she received plaudits for her delivery with an acknowledgement that it was time for a change. Well, former colleagues, you sure got the change.
Post election, the theme continued – a seeming inability to grasp the serious threat to New Zealand’s proud record of innovative primary school education. Or to be more kind, maybe the attitude was that the threat could be managed and ultimately sidestepped to minimise harm, and indeed a principal said as much to me at the time. I’d suggest that such an attitude demonstrated political naivety above all else.
The role of the NZPF seems to have been conflicted over this period. This organisation is the professional body of primary school principals, not a union as some mischief makers contend. Its role includes close liaisons with the relevant ministers and with the ministry, and generally these have been beneficial both to their members, and to primary schooling in general.
However, as Kelvin observes, there does seem to have been some role conflict over the implementation of national standards, including a consideration of being involved in a working party on national standards implementation in 2010.
‘On that Friday (10th September 2010) , Tolley writes a letter to the president. Will you help me get national standards right she asks? But she expressly rules out looking at national standards as a policy: just the detail will be given attention. The president and inner group fall for it.’
On this occasion, the NZPF came to the realisation that things were not as they seemed, and opted not to be involved. Is this still the case?
Kelvin, through his research and inside information, now believes that there is a cabal with the NZPF who are actively working with the Ministry of Education over the implementation of the PaCT database.
‘I have good reason to believe that a powerful inner group of conservative males within the NZPF executive is playing with PaCT. The purpose of this posting is to try to elicit a clear statement from this inner group that their discussions on PaCT with Hekia Parata have been only to reiterate NZPF policy of being firmly opposed to national standards. I know a lot more about what is going on than I want to reveal, but I can say Parata has made inroads into the executive. Initial moves to set the scene for a change of policy on national standards are evident.’
‘The argument being put forward by this group, would you believe? is that PaCT is necessary to sort out the standardised testing mess. The argument being that with PaCT now being mandatory, NZPF needs to support PaCT to have an input. The NZPF then makes the astounding statement that PaCT (that is national standards) will remain irrespective of a change of government. This rubbish reveals that the NZPF is hell bent on pandering to Parata irrespective.’
This is damning stuff. What does the rank and file membership think? I don’t know. What would the teaching workforce think?
All this is spite of the research based opinion of Waikato University’s Martin Thrupp,
‘If the Progress and Consistency Tool to be made mandatory by the Government is mainly intended as a form of national moderation for OTJ-making, then it can be expected to be an expensive failure’
and also in spite of the Treasury Report of November 2011 (highlighted here), that
‘makes it clear that PaCT is to be used for added-value performance pay and dismissal of teachers. Under the heading ‘System lever changes could focus on workforce accountability and funding and governance’ is a blacked out section (obviously a reference to PaCT) which goes on to say that ‘The creation of value-added data remains a priority to support better accountability and increased funding flexibility in subsequent years.’ The report says that teachers in a school, and schools, by means of PaCT should be paid on the value-added results. PaCT, the report indicates will increasingly be used to control what happens in classrooms down to a daily basis.’
One can only speculate what is going on in the higher echelons of the NZPF. I am aware that there is a growing body of teacher discontent who feel that the principals of schools are not working in their interests (which means the children’s interests) and that they are not being informed of the bigger picture.
NZPF President Phil Harding has recently written to all principals to advise that the organisation is still working on its PaCT position (even though the Mathematics section is due to go live in July and to explain their rationale:
‘Our declared strategy in relation to the ministry is to be informed and seek to influence.’
In response, Kelvin has written:
‘Here we have a tool which is central to the Treasury’s campaign of screwing primary education to the floor, and NZPF is ‘still working on its PaCT position’?
‘This is a variation of a time-worn, self-serving argument, used by those who decide to live off proximity to power and the vision of the powerful, in the absence of the necessary courage and their own vision. It’s a desperately barren argument: an organisation does not need to be part of the problem to be informed of the problem, nor does it need to be part of the problem to influence or challenge the problem. Being part of the problem to be informed of the problem or to influence or challenge the problem serves to exacerbate the problem and weakens the moral authority to influence or challenge it.’
This leaves New Zealand education in a parlous state.
NZPF’s conflicted attitude to the development of the PaCT database is opening the door to the dual horrors of children’s education being totally subservient to the problems of teachers collecting and entering the required information, and the even worse horror of a primary schooling regime totally committed to the ‘raising of achievement’ as defined by pedagogically invalid rubrics.
There’s no scope here for any educational programme to develop the whole child, particularly so in our poorer communities, whose children will be served a truly second class schooling experience.
This is a very long way from the still world leading visionary statement expressed by Clarence Beeby and Peter Fraser in 1939, and which is still part of Labour’s education policy:
The government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers.
Schools that are to cater for the whole population must offer courses that are as rich and varied as are the needs and abilities of the children who enter them.