Wednesday, September 22, 2010

National Standards lay waste to creativity. Wise words from Kelvin Smythe!

Creative New Zealand teachers should listen and pass on Kelvin's words to all. Visit his site and join up for his regular postings -and join upper right to get my blogs. It is important to see through the smog of Ministry dogma and appreciate the sad reality the Ministry taking New Zealand education.

The following is a slightly edited version of Kelvin's posting.Visit his site to read it in full.

Kelvin writes

'We all know that the technicalities of national standards are irreconcilably flawed, but are we sufficiently focused on national standards as a concept being irreconcilably flawed?

National standards are irreconcilably flawed as a concept because they set up narrowed versions of literacy and numeracy as proxies for the curriculum, resulting in a lack of time and attention to the broader curriculum, laying it waste. This means children who are having no problems with literacy and numeracy, for no good reason, have an impoverished education; while children having problems with literacy and numeracy, for good reason, but doomed means, have an impoverished education as well.

The big issue of national standards is not that they don’t work for literacy and numeracy but that they harm the education of all children by working against the wider curriculum in the process of not working for literacy and numeracy either.

This effect on the wider curriculum is the number one issue for children and teachers, and the most potent one for getting the message across to the public about national standards.

Let’s get the technical issues about national standards out of the way first. This web site has continually made the point that national standards cannot be defined and that in the absence of this definition, formal assessment tools function will come to act as de facto definitions. National standards cannot be defined because in any definition there is always at least one idea that requires further definition.

It needs to be made clear that if the discussion was about school standards, it wouldn’t matter if there was some imprecision in the definitions because it would simply be an agreed goal towards which a school was working, but national standards are a very different thing.

I sometimes hear teachers say their school is doing national standards. Rubbish – no school is doing national standards.

National standards, by definition, are about high stakes’ assessment (meaning individual and school reputation, and career aspirations, are at stake), involving national moderation procedures and external checking. The ministry and review office will be all over schools. It will be a Disneyland for the bureaucracies. When you are doing them you will know – you will be feeling the pressure in relation to the decile you are – an intense, unpleasant pressure. And always in these circumstances ‘distortions’ occur. Wow! That decile 1 down the road has done amazingly well. What’s going on there? Yes, what is going on down there?

Then there is Overall Teacher Judgement (OTJ).

In New Zealand, as a selling point that our national standards are somehow different from national standards that have occurred elsewhere, OTJ has been introduced. What a merry dance leading nowhere that is going to take us.

National standards will not be real national standards for about five years. The time in between will just be play time.

Let us go back to national standards and follow the lead from there to establish the real national standards. Clearly those bland statements called the national standards aren’t the real national standards; they are general statements lacking any semblance of precision. So national standards are not the real national standards. Those non-national standards’ national standards point to the curriculum levels. But those curriculum levels were not designed to be national standards; they were designed as general levels for a curriculum. This is demonstrated by the curriculum levels requiring a large number of achievement objectives to explain them. But these achievement objectives were not designed to be national standards either; they were designed as indicators for the curriculum levels. The achievement objectives are too numerous and too lacking in scope to be the national standards. The same can be said for the progressions that have been produced, and which have no formal recognition, anyway.

So far, no luck with finding the real national standards.

We are now left with the standardised assessment tools and the press-ganged assessment tools, and OTJ. Ostensibly the standardised and the press-ganged assessment tools are there to place children at particular curriculum levels, but seeing curriculum levels are not real national standards, that is not possible.

The standardised assessment tools (PAT and the semi-standardised asTTle), and the press-ganged assessment tools, however, are producing numbers which are putting children in categories. What are those categories? Are those categories the real national standards? My answer is yes. What, then, are national standards? National standards are the categories that assessment tools are putting children in. Yes – but what are national standards? They aren’t anything you can define in words; they are the numbers allocated to children by the assessment tools. They can’t be defined in words, because the assessment tools whether already established, or press-ganged, perform their function by producing their numbers. Anyway, as has already been suggested, national standards cannot be defined.

The already established standardised assessment tools can be turned to producing numbers for national standards because they are normed to some degree – well normed in the case of PAT; and marginally well (and for the later years) in the case of the sprawling, wayward, and fitfully insightful asTTle. The press-ganged assessment tools weren’t designed for national standards; they were forced into service to produce numbers in relation to levels, which, as already discussed, do not work for national standards.

The end result will be that the press-ganged assessment tools will be sidelined, and we will be left, believe it or not, with PAT and asTTLe. All that kerfuffle and we are back with PAT and to some extent asTTle. This will, of course, take a few years to shake down, but that is what will happen.

What about OTJ?

When national standards are fully moderated and externally checked in, say, five years, very little differentiation will be allowed between assessment tool numbers and OTJ. Schools will have to justify any significant differentiation and that will put a real crimp on that manoeuvre. To allow significant differentiation would be to concede that the assessment tools were faulty; and, above all, make the moderation process incapable of moderation.

With New Zealand national standards we have national standards which aren’t national standards; curriculum levels which weren’t designed for national standards; achievement objectives that were designed for the curriculum levels not national standards and, anyway, as achievement objectives aren’t suitable for national standards; and OTJ which, when national standards become high stakes and real national standards, will be seen as antithetical to the nature of national standards.

I want to stress that real national standards won’t happen for about five years, up until then we will be playing at national standards. The settling in period will really be a phony period for suckering schools. After that there will be a winding down to PAT and to some extent asTTle as defining national standards by whatever numbers they produce and wherever the national standards’ bar is placed.

And the irreconcilable flaws, well – there are no defined national standards or any other words that define them (levels and the like); all the press-ganged assessment tools don’t and can’t work for national standards; OTJ can’t be accommodated in national standards; leaving aside asTTle, only PAT works for national standards, but it is already working for standards, it is already moderated, it is already standardised, and OTJ is already used to put the results into context and perspective. Why would we want to stuff up that old faithful by forcing it into a task it wasn’t designed for?

Indeed, why would we want to stuff up our children, teachers, schools and system by having national standards?

How did this gigantic stuff up come about?

Well it came about because our used car salesman wanted a stunt as a substitute for an education policy; the ministry said Oh no! It has been a disaster every other place it has been used, we’ll try and give it some credibility; but national standards can’t be given credibility, they only 'work' if they are imposed arbitrarily because, as an education idea, they are irreconcilably flawed; and in trying to give them some credibility, we have, ladies and gentlemen, this gigantic stuff up, Aotearoa-style.

If certain assessment tools are going to define national standards by the numbers they produce, as they will, we might as well go straight to national testing. It is probably the more honest thing to do. Then we can see our future more clearly: a devastated wider curriculum; and a child-time of children being prepared for tests. We will see our future in how it is reported from America; how it was reported from England by Robin Alexander in the monumental The Cambridge Primary Review.

Behold the wasteland.

We will, also, see quite clearly what monumental ….. we are making of ourselves'.

And I am totally behind Kelvin.

Too many principals are becoming overt or subtle apologists for the Standards; 'We are already doing them'. They are too busy pretending all is well, or there is no real problem, to see the wood for the trees and, in the process, leading schools into the right-wing politics of blame. It is all about how to factory farm those pigs. It is all about a McDonald's approach to education. It is a thin view of educational excellence. Those in high decile schools ought not to fool their parents it is good for them because they will win by default. Low decile school will scramble to show results but will always fail in such a un-level playing field. The real problem to failing students lies outside the school gates. One solution is creative teaching that develops the gifts and talents of all students.

We need more dissidents


Alison said...

You've both said it very well again. Thanks!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Alison - I thought it worth sharing.Too many schools see little problem with them. They are like the captain on the Titanic!

Anonymous said...

I think Kelvin and yourself have great faith in teachers - or more to the point school principals. But are there that many creative princpals with the courage to stand up against what is so educationaly unsound?

As for the Titanic evidence has just 'surfaced' that the Director of the Company overruled advice from the Captain who wanted to change course.

Alison said...

It's difficult being a dissident in one's own school. One is seen as being a dinosaur - not able to move with the times, not able to change....

Bruce Hammonds said...

I know what you mean - authentic education sounds old fashioned to those sucked in by modernistic nonsense - find friends in other schools.

Brian O'C said...

Hi Bruce
They are rubbish but who cares. If we just play along and not really do them; we will have a new minister soon who won't be brave enough to continue.
Education is now the political battleground but it is election year next year so things will change quick. Will Anne Tolley be still there in March? Will National Standards be there in April? Let's see

Bruce Hammonds said...

Let's hope you are right Brian but I sense change is in the air.