Sunday, October 30, 2011

Smoke and Mirrors

Guest Post by Allan Alach

The October 25th issue of the New Zealand Education Gazette features an article from the Ministry of Education which starts as follows:
Supporting professional judgments in reading, writing and mathematics.
A progress and consistency tool is being developed to support teachers’ professional judgments in relation to the National Standards, and to improve the measurement of student progress over time.”
The article presents this as a positive development in education, although everyone knows that the introduction of national standards was a purely political move by the National Party.  It follows then that any development of national standards also has political origins.
We know that New Zealand education is highly regarded internationally, even by the OECD who develop and implement the PISA testing programme
New Zealand is a top-performing OECD country in reading literacy, with the average student scoring 521 out of 600. This score is higher than the OECD average of 493, making New Zealand the 4th strongest OECD country in reading skills. Additionally, students performed well in mathematics and science, with more than 17% reaching the two highest levels of proficiency.” Source: OECD Better Life Initiative
So why destroy our highly regarded primary school education system?
The article then goes on to outline the rationale behind the development of this ‘progress and consistency tool.’
“This approach has been taken to avoid problems that have beset the implementation of standards in countries that have used national tests. In particular, national tests tend to result in a narrowing of the curriculum to the aspects of learning that teachers believe are likely to appear in the test.”
Sounds plausible? 
Wait a moment, if the Ministry of Education are taking note of overseas research and evidence here, then why do they completely disregard all the similar evidence about the damaging effects of any kind of standards based system?
After all, this information is very easy to find, as is illustrated by this article from Alfie Kohn: “Beware of the Standards, Not Just the Tests (2001).”
This article is essential reading, to give readers the necessary strength to be able to read the Gazette article without damage to their mental health.
Kohn says:

“But the more comprehensive and detailed a list of standards, the more students (and even teachers) are excluded from this process, the more alienated they tend to become, and the more teaching becomes a race to cover a huge amount of material. Thus, meeting these kinds of standards may actually have the effect of dumbing down classrooms”
That is pretty clear, even to ideologically driven bureaucrats implementing a political agenda. 
The Gazette article then discusses the broad range of knowledge and skills that teachers need to integrate into one overall teacher judgement rating of a child’s achievement against the relevant standard. 
There is an immediate illogicality here - how can a broad range of knowledge and skills possibly be reduced down to one ranking against one standard and yet retain any validity and value?
The Ministry’s solution is to develop their ‘progress and consistency tool.' Excuse me, what does this jargon actually mean?
This is a well known language trick, using a meaningless phrase to hide the true meaning.  
The Ministry then attempts to muddy the waters even further; 
“The progress and consistency tool is intended to support teachers’ overall judgments and assist with increasing the consistency of judgments across the country and over time. The tool will also enhance the measurement of students’ progress in relation to the National Standards.”
A key phrase slips through this web of deceit: “measurement of students’ progress.”
Here, then, is the official confirmation of testing. “Measurement of progress” can not mean anything else. 
If something is to be measured, then some kind of measurement system/criteria must follow. We can not measure length, for example, in a way that is consistent and meaningful to others, without using an agreed reference tool e.g a metre ruler. Measurement is a precise operation. One does not measure by using an overall judgement. 
The statement about this progress and consistency tool being used to support teacher judgements is nonsense.
The article concludes with some saccharine:
“The tool is being developed with the sector, it will be released in iterations, and consultation will be sought throughout its development. Three advisory groups, including one comprising teachers and principals, have been established and schools will be asked to give feedback on the tool from early next year.”
Consultation? Advisory groups? One comprising teachers and principals? Who is represented in these three advisory groups? Who are the principals and teachers who are participating in one of these groups? Do they have the right to speak on behalf of the whole sector? 
Since we have no idea who is in any of these advisory groups, the statement is meaningless and is yet another red herring to distract our attention away from the implicit danger signs.
What danger signs? The glaringly obvious one is the lack of any information about the “progress and consistency tool.” 
What is being developed? How will it be implemented? 
This lack of detail means that anything is possible. Think about it - what is the point of developing this “progress and consistency tool” as an optional extra to assist overall teacher judgements? 
One can be reasonably confident that there will be a degree of compulsion buried in this.
Unfortunately for the Ministry’s spin doctors, Kelvin Smythe spoiled their schemes when he published this article
followed by
In these two articles, Kelvin provided the information that the Ministry tried to keep secret.
 This ‘tool’ will consist of rubrics.
As a key part of this tool, a pedagogical framework will be developed that will be psychometrically aligned to enable a measure of progress.”
The significant word here, that gives this all away, is “psychometrically.”
From Wikipedia:
“Psychometrics is the field of study concerned with the theory and technique of psychological measurement, which includes the measurement of knowledge, abilities, attitudes, personality traits, and educational measurement. The field is primarily concerned with the construction and validation of measurement instruments such as questionnaires, tests, and personality assessments.”
Regardless of the Ministry spin here, this means some form of testing. It is obvious that schools will be compelled to use this tool, given the investment in it.
As for claims that this will not narrow the curriculum, that is arrant nonsense as well. We know that this tool will use rubrics, that will reduce the range of possible learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy to those specified in the rubrics. 
How can it be otherwise? How can this not be a narrowing of the literacy and numeracy curriculum? 
Narrowing of the remainder of the curriculum is inevitable for schools who are under the threat of league tables. The government’s protestations that these are not on the agenda fall over immediately when we have a close look at the relevant clause requiring achievement data to be submitted to the Ministry of Education:
“the numbers and proportions of students at, above, below or well below the standards, including by Māori, Pasifika and by gender (where this does not breach an individual’s privacy);”
Why insert the qualifying phrase about individual privacy? Surely this would only be an issue if this information was available to the public? The answer is very obvious.
There is ample overseas evidence (ignored by the government and the Ministry) about the problems resulting from league tables, and especially about the resultant narrowing of the curriculum as schools strive to get higher places on the league tables in order to retain their roll numbers and status as a ‘good’ school. Again, how can it be otherwise?
Another part of the Ministry’s arrogant disdain is that they did not mention the other part of this testing agenda - the advertising of a Project Manager position, responsible for the development of an empirically - calibrated psychometric scale to ‘assist teacher judgments in relation to National Standards’. This will use a software tool (possibly internet based), with the data being processed using Rasch Analysis.  
I’ve outlined this in detail in this posting: National Testing- here we go. 
This project is for the development of computer based testing that will result in numerical rankings. There is no other outcome. 
This is to be ready to go by January 2014 and we can expect this to be mandatory.
Trying to define ‘achievement’ through focussed standards and rubrics that pre-define the end results, through a narrowing down of what is deemed to be of value, is nonsensical. 
This is especially so in written language, which includes an artistic and expressive component.  Here is a draft written by a ten year old boy, the introduction to a speech he is developing for a competition. No adults have been involved in this, although I have re-formatted this as a poem for this article.
I wonder what the future holds? 
Does it hold what I wish, like peace and harmony, 
Or does it hold what I do not wish like violence and war? 
I wonder what the future holds?  
Will the world be at peace 
Or will the world be at war? 
I wonder what the future holds? 
Who will rule the world? 
Will hunger still be a problem?
I wonder what the future holds?
How could any rubric be developed for this piece of writing? 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Something I wrote a while ago - now on Phil Cullen's site

Take look at Phil Cullen's site Phil printed the below on his site.

The NZ government’s response to schools’ failure and poor teaching is to implementNational Standards aka Naplan in Australia and NCLB in the US, strategies that look back to the past for inspiration. This ‘rear-vision thinking’ is too simple and diverts attention.

Time for a public conversation. The biggest concern is that there seems to be “…no urgency for change…in schools…where disengaged students are reaching frightening proportions”. The standards agenda is “… rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to get a better view. The confusion around national standards actually makes ensuring all students achieve success difficult by distorting teacher energy, narrowing their teaching and making it difficult for teachers to focus on developing inquiry based learning.”

A Vision for New Zealand. ”We could do worse than follow the lead of Singapore with its ‘Thinking Schools, Thinking Nation’ motto. According to the Ministry of Education ‘thinking schools will be learning organisations in every sense, constantly challenging assumptions, and seeking better ways of doing things through participation, creativity and innovation…the spirit of learning should accompany our students even after they leave school… A Learning Nation envisions a national culture and social environment that promotes lifelong learning in our people.’ Singapore’s Education Minister explains that the big adjustment for teachers is the way we educate our young to develop a willingness to keep learning, and an ability to experiment, innovate, and take risks.” [If only Australia’s Minister for Education had visited Singapore in 2008, instead of New York!!]

Our schools could achieve such a vision if all their energies were focussed on implementing the current New Zealand Curriculum rather the standards. The same is true for Australia. Schools need to focus their collective energies on developing environments in which students and teachers’ creativity, in-depth understanding and thinking can flourish.”

Personalised learning. “We need teachers with the in-depth understanding able to help children to learn on their own, or as our currently side-lined NZ Curriculum says, to be their ‘own seekers, users and creators.’

Daniel Pink, in his latest book Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”,writes “the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing – is essential for high levels of creativity. And, quoting research by Deci and Ryan on the self-determination theory, he writes, “We have three psychological needs – competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When these are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive and happy… [and] if there is anything fundamental about our nature, it’s the capacity for interest. Some things facilitate it. Some things undermine it.”  [ Australia’s passion for  a blanket testing regime certainly ‘undermines’ it]

Pink’s three conditions for success. The three conditions required for the motivation of all learners are : Autonomy – the provision of authentic choice;  Mastery – the desire to get better;  and Purpose – which provides the context for the next two. … The most powerful energiser of all is purpose – as seen through the eyes of learners.”

Having a winning mind-set. According to Carol Dweck [Stanford Uni.]: “People hold one of two views of their own intelligence. There are those who believe they are born talented [or dumb] and others believe in effort and practice. Those with a ‘fixed mindset’ give up and …those with a ‘growth mindset’ do not interpret mistakes as failing but merely as a means of improving.

Perkins [Making Learning Whole] outlines seven research based principles of teaching that can transform education, one of which is that students need to practice the ‘hard bits’ so as to achieve mastery in whatever they are attempting.”

The School As The Home of the Mind.  “Art Costa’s powerful metaphor is well known to New Zealand schools and are similar to Guy Claxton’s ideas of ‘learning power’ and his reference to ‘the mind as a muscle’ which grows with exercise… ideas which underpin the key assumptions of the NZ curriculum…The intentions of Costa, Claxton and the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum are all about cultivating thinking dispositions. Costa calls them ‘habits of the mind’; and Claxton ‘learning power’. Guy Claxton of England visits NZ occasionally. He has visited Australia, but Joel Klein with his hard-data system, became Ms Gillard’s favourite.

Inquiry learning. Student thinking and purposeful teacher interaction cannot develop in a vacuum. Learning needs meaningful contexts…Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory encourages teachers to explore chosen content through a variety of ways – through the arts, the sciences, mathematics, language, music, and physical activity. Integrated learning is natural to the very young [who are not aware of subject divisions] and teenagers today explore the world through technological media crossing subject boundaries with casual disregard. Secondary schools remain locked into compartmentalised and fragmented learning with their genesis is a past industrial era while their students experience and interconnected evolutionary real world.

The Big Picture. Schooling ought to be seen as central to the development of New Zealand as a ‘cutting edge’ society. Enough is now known about teaching and learning that no student need fail. The current NZ Minister’s emphasis on compliance [Hello, Julia] through national standards is characteristic of yesterday’s assembly-line thinking rather than looking towards the unknown challenges of the future. The real literacies of tomorrow entails the ability for students to  be their own navigators able to thrive in unpredictable situations supported and guided by the positive dispositions they have hopefully gained through their educational experience

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Way David Hockney Sees It.

I have just returned from a few short weeks experiencing hospitality in the United Kingdom. Other than the wonderful hospitality I have had a wonderful opportunity to intimately explore the forests,country lanes and fields of Kent. Not to mention a number old country pubs but that another story.

My visit included a couple of days exploring the 'new' Tate, the 'old Tate' and the National  Gallery experiencing, close up, painting I have only ever seen in art books. 
looking at art with friend Marion Keeble

One of my favourite artist is David Hockney one of Britain's greatest living artist. Hockney came into public notice in a Young Contemporaries Exhibition in 1961.

Hockney's skill has been his ability to make fresh pictures many based on real technical skill. While I was in England I picked up on an newspaper interview with Hockney and feel some of his ideas are worth sharing  with educators.

Hockney began his interest in art playing around with drawing exploring a range of media when really young as do most young people. Young people, Hockney says, all want to draw something that's in front of them which he suggests they have a deep desire to depict what they seeChildren and artists gain great pleasure making and looking at pictures and this desire to capture images goes as far back as the cave artists.

It is a shame in our literacy orientated schools that all forms of art are not taken seriously as they might except by those teachers who retain a more creative approach to learning.

As with all artists Hockney faced the challenge of developing his own style. In the arts, as in every other human endeavor, it all too easy to fall in line with whatever is the current school of painting. In his early days Abstract Expressionism was all the rage but Hockney developed his own approach. There is a message here for teachers who also can too easily fall in line with current expectations and in the process lose their own individuality.

Photography seems to have put paid to realistic paintings.Hockney set about searching for ways of depicting the world in ways different to the way the camera sees things. His aim was to paint the things that camera couldn't capture. He has called his approach " obsessive naturalism".For a while he used photographs assist him in developing his art but eventually he believes photography has deeply affected the way we see things, making us take for granted the exciting things we see; images are all too easily produced.For example all art movements do the same thing - Impressionist painting made us appreciate the ephemeral play of light in the environment.

Artists see things personally- they are able to paint what cannot be seen. Picasso could paint the human figure in ways beyond any camera.

One of the basic motivations of Hockney is enjoying the act of seeing and in this area his ideas are relevant to those who help young people 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'as the New Zealand Curriculum states. And in this respect every child's art should reflect the personal style of the young artist.

Drawing makes you, Hockney says, 'look and ask questions about what you are seeing all the time. Drawing makes you see things clearer and clearer and clearer still.' The image, he says, passes into your brain , into your memory until it is recreated by your hands ( or through poetry, movement music or dance).

Artists like Hockney ,and young people  gain intense pleasure from looking and creating. Hockney talks about the joy of noticing and believes not everyone get the same satisfaction. Maybe more children would also experience this joy  if schools valued education through looking and creating - it is important to appreciate that such intense experiences lead to enriched vocabularies. Looking he believes is a positive act and has to be done deliberately - too many young children look but do not see.

As Hockney creates each action provides motivation for further actions and models the very way humans think - creating understanding as they go along and not having the finished product all set in the mind. We understand the present by comparing it with the past adding to ideas as we go along. And of course things change with different perspectives and at different times. This is in contrast to photographs which captures an instant in time. Painting, in contrast, can take several hours to complete -changing all the time as the art work evolves. Hockney has experimented with making art through collages of photographs in an attempt to fuse photography and art.

In classrooms children can capture images and ideas through digital photography to assist their memories but back in school these images can be re-interpreted in a range of ways from the real to the imaginary. And as part of the process of creation involve words and other forms of creativity.

Art is a valuable way of interpreting the world and ought to be seen as important as traditional literacy.

Before the word must come the experience.

Too many children have restricted vocabularies which limits their literacy growth - perhaps digging deeply into experiences might provide the very thing such children are lacking?

WRC Rugby is Over - applying success to our country.

An article by Martin Hawes in the Sunday Times caught my attention.

 Martin usually writes articles giving financial advice but in his latest contribution he reflects on the success of the World Rugby Cup and how its success might be applied to the wider picture of  the New Zealand economy.

The point he makes is that 'New Zealnders can do anything when we set our minds to it'. When we  have determined  and agreed somethings important nothing can stop us'. He then goes on to say 'it is a pity we don't get similarity determined about our economy. Wouldn't it be great', he continues, ' if we had consensus about future economic direction and went all out to become world betters at wealth as well as rugby? The result would be better education, better health and a better future'.

But, 'he says, 'we don't'.

I would prefer that we widen the debate wider than the economy and wealth but the point is well made.  The next major even on the calendar are the elections but there has little debate about what it is we want New Zealand to be seen as in the future.

Hawes writes that  'there is no feeling that we are all in this together.At best we argue a bit about how we will spend the wealth we have, but little common resolve to create more of it.' As a result we 'continue our long term slide against other countries'.

Just imagine if some of the money and publicity of the World Cup were to have been spent on providing New Zealanders with some ideas of future alternatives to consider.It would have been possible to establish a range of conversations, using modern technology, to involve as many people  consider alterntives and , better still, to add their ideas to the mix.

Hawes writes that 'we have no unified dream or vision of better futures.' A vision he writes  is an 'image of what you want'.  Although Hawes's argument is centred on ensuring households have financial security his ideas apply to the wider scene.

Having such a vision drives our behaviour and if we are not clear on what maters then our actions will not result in positive outcomes. 'If you cannot decide what you want', he writes, ' then no amount of strategizing, planning or detail will help.' It is like planning a journey when you don't know if you if you're going to New York or Napier'.

'Having a vision is not only about having a mental vision of what success looks like but also what we want the wealth for'. Although he is referring to household financial success once again it applies to the wider picture.

'A vision of a future life gives the motivation' and he adds it always ' means giving something up today so you can have more tomorrow.That giving up needs a good reason and the vision is that gives it a purpose'.

It is important he writes 'to decide on what you want to achieve. This means taking time to think about about the life you want.' Once again this applies to New Zealand as a country. And it is important for everyone to be aligned behind what is decided. The trouble is in our combative political system too much time is spent running the other part down and it all becomes a either /or situation with many people not appreciating what it is we want as a country.

Hawes concludes his article by saying: ' If  New Zealand  displayed the same togetherness and sense of purpose we have put into the WRC party, we would have the best economy in the world.

As good as winning the world cup was the future of our country is more important.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Layers of the National Testing Onion

Guest post by Allan Alach
The layers of the government’s national testing onion are being stripped away. It is now very clear what the plan and the process to achieve this is.
Kelvin Smythe has laid this out in a series of clear statements on his latest posting, which is a damming indictment of the underhand processes of the Ministry of Education and of their political masters, the National Party led government of New Zealand, who are those who must bear full responsibility for the secrecy and deception that has been uncovered.
Kelvin’s article needs to be read carefully and distributed very wildly, far beyond the teaching profession, so that all this is out in the open.
As many people have been saying ever since the concept of assessing children against national standards through teacher judgements was raised, this is an unworkable system. This criticism has nothing to do with the ideology behind standards; it is the design of this variation of standardisation that was never going to work. I suspect that the government may have known this all along, and that the the standards were fed out to keep the critical lions happy for a while. All well and good, and the government, regardless of al the evidence to the contrary, has the electoral mandate until November 25th, the day of the general election, to develop educational policies as it sees fit. Whether this is a good thing is another debate.
It is difficult to find appropriate language to describe the way that the government has gone about implementing this national testing agenda that has always been in their long term goals. The secrecy that Kelvin outlines, the stressing of confidentiality in the documentation, the signing up of people on longer term contracts a mere month before the general election, the outward denial that tests are being developed, the clear manipulation of deadline timeframes on non-compliant schools by the Ministry of Education, in order to precipitate the appointment of statutory managers into schools in the last week of the election campaign and so on, reveals a level of deception and manipulation that would have impressed the master of political manipulation, Niccolò Machiavelli.
To reiterate this point, it is not the decision to move forward into a national testing regime that is the major concern here, it is the method by which this is being done that rings worrying alarm bells.
This raises some immediate questions:
  • If the government are prepared to use this secretive process to develop tests, what else is being developed in secret, whether in education, or in other areas of policy?
  • Why has the government deemed it necessary to develop this testing regime in this way?
  • Will the National Party lay this out before the election, so that the voters of New Zealand are well informed?
  • If not, why would this be?
  • Why the hurry to have all this signed and sealed before the election?
  • How ethical is it for the National Party, as the current government, to use the Ministry of Education as a tool to implement policies like this so close to an election, and which have not been put out to voters? Especially when Parliament sittings have ended, so there is no opportunity for this to be questioned?
This brings an immediate concern about the lack of independence of the Ministry of Education who clearly can not act in the best interests of schools and children, but who must follow the dictates of the government of the day, whoever this may be.
The obvious conclusion is that this is not intended to be out in public before the election. A second conclusion is that the National Party are proceeding in the certain belief that they will be re-elected, and thus feel that they are not obliged to put information out for public scrutiny. Signing up people on 12 month contracts, such as the project manager, carries with it the assumption that this job will continue post election, as does letting contracts for the development of rubrics, the re-development of existing testing tools, and so on.
Let’s look at the facts that have been uncovered over past weeks.
  • We know that the Ministry are training people for limited statutory manager roles.
  • We know that these people will be appointed to schools whose charters are deemed ‘non-compliant.’
  • We know that the deadline for schools to submit a compliant charter is very tight, with October 21 being mentioned in at least one case.
  • We know that the statutory managers will be appointed on Monday 21 November.
  • We know that this is 5 days before the general election.
  • We know that the position of Senior Project Manager for the development of an empirical system of measuring achievement has been advertised.
  • We know that this appointment will be made before the election.
  • We know that the implementation date for this project is January 2014.
  • We know that tenders are being sought for the development of rubrics against each national standard.
  • We know that the contract for this will be signed before the election.
  • We know that the asTTle tests for writing for year 1 and 2 children are being developed.
What don’t we know?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

National Testing - here we go.

Guest post by Allan Alach
Halfway through the first week of the term break, and the nonsense keeps being spilled out. The depth of deviousness being displayed by the Ministry of Education (MOE) , no doubt following orders from above, is beyond comprehension.
Schools with ‘non-complaint’ charters have been aware that the MOE were in the process of mailing out “letter two’, setting requirements for charters to be compliant, and imposing a tight deadline for this. That was only to be expected.
However, for these letters to be dated (and posted to schools) on October 7th, the last day of the term, conveys another story. So does the tight deadline of October 21st, the Friday of the second week of the term break.
In the words of the cliche, ‘it’s not rocket science’ to know that schools are closed during the breaks, and that mail is therefore not likely to be processed. So that then raises the question: Were the dates, of posting, and of the deadlines, set during the breaks because of ignorance or deliberate action?
I don’t think it takes too much pondering on this to come to the obvious conclusion - this is deliberate, especially the deadline date of October 21st. Why would this be, I wonder. Again the conclusion is obvious. The MOE (and their political masters) want schools to be caught out as non-compliant, to then justify the appointment of limited statutory managers. As we’ve learned previously, this is all targeted to happen in the closing weeks of the election campaign.
This just drives home the point that has been made over and over again - there is nothing educational about national standards. This is purely for political self interest.
If education and ‘raising standards’ was genuinely the issue, then there would be far more compromise and discussion to work through issues and concerns, to ensure that systems and processes were developed that would be educationally positive.
We know that the National Party led government are not taking any regard of international and national research and evidence that clearly shows that a) standards/testing based regimes don’t ‘raise achievement’, and b) this narrowing down of the curriculum is very harmful to children’s overall educational development.
This disregard of expert evidence is not a New Zealand phenomenon, and so this points also to a wider agenda.
The lack of morality in using vulnerable children as political levers is beyond my comprehension.
Just to stir the pot some more, the MOE, (or more specifically, the National Standards Sector Advisory Group), is advertising for a contract senior project manager:
Job Description
Contract Senior Project Manager for a 12 month term - start date from mid Oct to mid Nov.
Project Purpose
  • The Consistency Framework will establish a nationally consistent approach to forming overall teacher judgments in relation to National Standards, and aims at reducing teacher’s workloads.
  • The Project has two main components:
      • The educational component (Framework) will involve the necessary research and analyses to develop empirically-calibrated scales and exemplars.
      • The systems development component (Architecture) will involve the development of the necessary software for teachers to have reliable and easy access to data and reports to enable them to make judgements in relation to the empirically-calibrated scales.
  • Advisory groups have been established
  • Three advisory groups have been established to provide advice on the development of the NSCF.
  • The NSCF Project needs to implement the solution ready for the 2014 academic year.
Another link details the project in more detail and includes this phrase:
Project overview •
This project proposes the development of an empirically-calibrated psychometric scale for teacher judgments in relation to National Standards.
This is crazy talk. How can an ‘empirically calibrated psychometric scale’ be used to support judgements?
Psychometry is the application of measures of measurement to the various branches of psychology. IQ tests come under this framework - the very questionable belief that ‘intelligence’ can be given a number. The whole area of psychometry has been challenged on the same basis - how can human intellectual attributes be measured? They can be described, but measured? Given numbers? Ratings of worth? According to whom? If something is to be measured, what do we use to do the measuring? Why tool A instead of tool B?
My article in the latest issue of Education Today, on Mark Garrison’s book “A Measure of Failure - the political origins of standardized testing” explores this further in the New Zealand politically driven education context.
Another section worthy of note from the Project Overview website is this one:
The NSCF will be made straightforward and easy for teachers - using a software tool (possibly internet based).
Software tool? Euphemism for TEST.
Let’s reflect on this a little more. Software/online assessment….. why that describes e-asTTle.. I wonder who owns the intellectual copyright to e-asTTle?
For overseas readers e-asTTle is an existing computer based assessment system. Here’s the opening statement from the relevant website:
Welcome to e-asTTle
e-asTTle is an online assessment tool, developed to assess students’ achievement and progress in reading, mathematics, writing, and in pānui, pāngarau and tuhituhi. The tool has been developed primarily for the assessment of students in years 5–10, but because it tests curriculum levels 2-6 it can be used for students in lower and higher year levels.
e-asTTle provides teachers and school leaders with information that can be used to inform learning programmes and to apply teaching practice that maximises individual student learning. Many teachers using e-asTTle have found it to be a great tool for planning, for helping students to understand their progress, and for involving parents in discussions about how well their children are doing.
Get the picture? Ostensibly this was developed as a ‘formative’ assessment tool, however many people have had their doubts about this all along.
Back to the Project Overview, which continues:
The programme of work will be based upon:
  • Progression definition
  • Sample data analysis (based upon a collection of an evidence base and judgements on each progression from a sample of students). Note: The scale for each sequence of standards will be constructed from the data using Rasch analysis.
  • Standard setting
  • Software development.
Rasch analysis?
“Rasch models are used for analysing data from assessments to measure variables such as abilities, attitudes, and personality traits. For example, they may be used to estimate a student's reading ability from answers to questions on a reading assessment…”
or, how about this, from
“Rasch analysis can be applied to assessments in a wide range of disciplines, including health studies, education, psychology, marketing, economics and social sciences.
Many assessments in these disciplines involve a well defined group of people responding to a set of items for assessment. Generally, the responses to the items are scored 0, 1 (for two ordered categories); or 0, 1, 2 (for three ordered categories); or 0, 1, 2, 3 (for four ordered categories) and so on, to indicate increasing levels of a response on some variable such as health status or academic achievement. These responses are then added across items to give each person a total score. This total score summarise the responses to all the items, and a person with a higher total score than another one is deemed to show more of the variable assessed. Summing the scores of the items to give a single score for a person implies that the items are intended to measure a single variable, often referred to as a unidimensional variable.”
The Project Overview concludes with this statement:
Further notes
  • The professional judgment of teachers, about their students’ progress and achievement, is at the centre of the National Standards. The NSCF will support teachers to make consistent judgments and support accurate measurement of students’ progress against the standards. The NSCF will support, not supplant, the professional judgment of teachers.
  • There is a need for a system to ensure consistency in the way in which teachers integrate diverse evidence to form judgments, and measure student progress, against the standards.
  • The professional judgment of teachers in interpreting evidence of students educational achievement, including classroom observation, cannot and will not be replaced by a machine.
This is just ‘smoke and mirrors’ to obscure the indisputable evidence that a version of national testing will be in place for the 2014 school year.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

What Is A Teacher?

Guest post by Allan Alach

I found the following poem (written by Lee Crockett, Ian Jukes and Andrew Churches) on Tony Gurr's All Things Learning blog. Great blog to follow, by the way!

Given the current situation in New Zealand education, over the introduction of national standards, and the strong indications that national testing is on the way, I thought it was timely to be more positive and proactive about teachers, who have the power to make positive changes in the lives of children. This is, of course, with the proviso that politicians, of any kind, stay out of education!

What is a Teacher?

A guide, not a guard.

What is learning?

A journey, not a destination.

What is discovery?

Questioning the answers, not answering the questions.

What is the process?

Discovering ideas, not covering content.

What is the goal?

Open minds, not closed issues.

What is the test?

Being and becoming, not remembering and reviewing.

What is learning?

Not just doing things differently, but doing different things.

What is teaching?

Not showing them what to learn, but showing them how to learn

What is school?

Whatever we choose to make it.