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.


Anonymous said...

Allan - really outline and critique (you guys really do have your hands full down there) ;-(

Thought you might also like this one (posted it last week) - maybe your Min of (mis) Education should answers a few of the questions ;-)

Take care - keep up the good fight (my dad used to say: you know it's time to give up...when you start winning)!


Allan Alach said...

Thanks Tony. That's another good one. Don't know how you find the time to keep turning out gems like this!

The problem, as it is in Australia, US and elsewhere, is that the politicians don't intend to listen to anything that contradicts their agenda.

The battle continues though and there are some cracks appearing in the government's carefully promoted image. The election is not looking as one sided as it was a few weeks back, and our proportional voting system could save NZ education yet.