School boards join the National Standards debate

It’s always nice to wake up to good news, and this morning it was the news that 225 school Boards of Trustees will today deliver the message to the Government that they have no confidence in National Standards, and will defer setting student achievement targets based on the standards for at least a year.

The opposition to National Standards is mounting: first teachers spoke out against them, then 38,000 New Zealanders signed a petition expressing concern about them, then the Auckland Primary Principals Association advised its members to stop attending training sessions for the standards because they were “irreconcilably flawed”, then the New Zealand Principals Federation launched a public campaign against the standards. Now Boards of Trustees are getting in on the act.

How much more will it take for John Key’s Government to listen to the message they are getting loud and clear – trial National Standards, not our kids?

What’s especially great about this morning’s news is that it lays to rest the propaganda being spread around that opposition to the standards is somehow limited to teachers, and motivated by self-interest.

In fact, it’s the interest of pupils that’s motivating teachers, parents, principals, and boards. Boards of Trustees have nothing personally to gain from opposing the introduction of the standards; in fact, they’ve been threatened by Education Minister Anne Tolley with “statutory interventions” (read sacking), but, as Jane Forrest, chair of Island Bay School Board of Trustees says, boards are taking a stand “because it was the right thing for the children”:

As representatives of our parent communities, we are joining our principals and teachers to say that national standards are fundamentally flawed, confusing and unworkable and we have no confidence in them.

Is the Minister really prepared to sack hundreds of school Boards of Trustees? The legal criteria for sacking school Boards require far more than that Boards defy an edict of an authoritarian Minister. They require that the Minister:

has reasonable grounds to believe that there is a risk to the operation of the school, or to the welfare or educational performance of its students.

Many of the boycotting schools will be able to demonstrate on the evidence of the reliable, trusted, standardised assessment tools they have been using for many years that they are performing well, and that the Minister has no reasonable grounds to believe there is a risk to the educational performance of their students.

That leaves Ministerial sackings of Boards vulnerable to judicial review in the High Court – potentially hundreds of judicial reviews!

Is that the path this Government really wants to head down? Surely it is time for John Key to tell his Minister of Education to take a step back and listen to the valid concerns of parents, teachers, principals and now Boards of Trustees.

Update I’m at meetings in Auckland today, but my fellow Green MP Keith Locke went down to meet representatives when they presented their opposition to Parliament; here’s a pic.

39 thoughts on “School boards join the National Standards debate

  1. toad – the protest against standards at our school where parents got hassled wasn’t by teachers – in fact I didn’t see a single teacher from the school participate.

    It seemed to be run by the Labour Party members.

    Just like many of the teachers who have spoken out,…. surprise surprise… are in or have strong links to the Labour Party.

    And now we have the chair of a board boycotting standards is also a Labour Party member?

    A giant coincidence? I doubt it.

  2. @photonz1 12:18 PM

    I wondered how long it would be before you turned up on this thread. If you look through the list of schools published by the Herald (at the bottom, from Catherine’s first link) you will see that they cover a whole range of demographics. Some will undoubtedly have predominantly Labour and/or Green voters on their boards, but I can’t imagine Murray’s Bay Intermediate or Khandallah School, for example, will.

  3. NZ Herald are currently running an on-line poll: Do you have confidence in the National Standards requirements?

    Currently running 55% “No”.

  4. toad – the problem is that issue has been hyjacked (at least partially) for political reasons.

    Labour are struggling to make ground on National and they see this as something they can exploit.

    Hence the protest at our school which had nothing to do with the teachers.

  5. toad – it’s not a very well worded question “Do you have confidence in the National Standards requirements?”

    By “requirements”, are they talking about what the kids are required to do, what the teachers are required to do, or what the schools are required to do?

    It’s funny that analysis that is virtually the same as what’s already been done for years in many schools, is now, all of a sudden, supposed to be damaging to our children.

    It’s the quintessential case of “thou dost protest too much”.

  6. Yep, I would agree it’s not very well worded, and its also an unscientific internet poll. But I do think it give an indication that there is pretty widespread concern out there about the implementation of National Standards.

  7. toad says “But I do think it give an indication that there is pretty widespread concern out there about the implementation of National Standards.”

    Probably true, but it begs the question – why have some schools implemented NS with no problems whatsoever, and others are acting as if they’ve been asked to fly their school to the moon?

  8. So what’s the problem here? I’m on a BOT and I still don’t get it. Is it that there should not be standards at all, or that the standards (as proposed) are faulty? As a parent I have always looked at school reports as pretty much a waste of time. Tick-boxes and platitudes. To me a measure of my child against a national standard could be, at face value at least, a great point of reference.
    I want standards. I’m also assuming that untill a set of reports are in and digested at national level, those standards will be a stab-in-the-dark. I’m hoping there is a commitment by govt/bureaucrats to tune the system. If we are to have standards, they’d better be damned good ones.
    I do have concerns that one of the motives behind the union’s objections is their fear that crap teachers (and schools) might be exposed. I hope not.

  9. @samiam 2:13 PM

    The problem is not with the concept of National Standards. It is the untrialed, poorly researched, aspirational shambles that Tolley has subsequently foisted on schools that is causing the consternation.

    The whole process has been rushed, right from the time Tolley rammed legislation through Parliament under extraordinary urgency and without Select Committee consideration to get her standards in place. Normally assessment tools such as this are not put in place until their have been extensive trials over schools with a range of demographics and over several years.

    But Tolley’s National Standards are just being imposed as aspirational targets without any educational base and Tolley herself has been forced to admit taht some of them may be set so high that few students will meet them.

    Hopefully that fact that a large number of BoTs are now expressing concern should allay the your concerns that this is about protecting crap teachers, samiam. It is not – it is about the educational interests of our children.

  10. That’s fine Toad, but I haven’t heard anyone suggesting what the best standards should be, just a bunch of nay-sayers.

  11. toad says “It is not – it is about the educational interests of our children.”

    How can it be, when those opposed say the standard will make no difference to childrens education.

    I suspect samiam has a very valid point. It’s clear that unions will do just about anything to stop teachers being paid relative to how good they are.

    There was even research in the paper last week challenging the class size myth.

    Kids with good teachers learnt more, regardless of whether class sizes were 30 or even over 60.

    And kids with not so good teachers, didn’t learn so well, regardless of whether their class size was 30, and it didn’t make much difference if class size was halved.

    Most of the arguements against National Standards apply to current standards – so it is clear there is much more behind the extreme and fanatic opposition than merely a measurement system similar to what many schools use already.

  12. @photonz1 4:07 PM

    Spin it how you like, photonz1. But 11.5% of Boards of Trustees have sufficient concern to disengage from the process or defer it. Identifying crap teachers would be in the interests of BoTs. So surely if avoiding that was the teachers’ agenda, you would expect all the BoTs to be supporting the standards.

    I might also add that there are many other BoTs, like these in Marlborough, that have severe concerns about the implementation of the standards but are not as yet prepared to join the boycott.

    But unless Tolley actually listens to their concerns, I expect the numbers disengaging will swell.

  13. @samiam 3:45 PM

    …but I haven’t heard anyone suggesting what the best standards should be…

    I can’t do that, and I doubt there is anyone who can. There are some overseas experiences that may help in that, but they can’t just be imported and imposed on demographics and educational history in New Zealand which will be different in many regards to overseas experiences.

    That is why we need to thoroughly research it, come up with the best possible theoretical model for New Zealand, and then trial it over 2 or 3 years in a small number of selected schools that typify most primary and intermediate school demographics without labeling individual students or schools as “failures” before imposing it on a nationwide basis.

  14. http://WWW.Academics join the fray with open letter to Anne Tolley – National Standards

    This is not a foremost a political issue the National Standards. This is an Issue in Assessment. An issue of the government thinking they have a simplistic solution to a deeprooted problem. Why is that the government is not listining to our world leading educationalist, the think tank for our children and ourfuture generations? Thrupp, Hattie, Flockton, and Crooks are not politicians. They have no invested interested in running for Labour. This one of the main reasons teachers are upset because our Government refuses to listen to our concerns and issues. If anyone of you are wanting to know what these real concerns are please google the above web address. We have a national standard and it is called a democracy.

  15. Why do I have this overwhelming feeling of deja vu when reading some of these comments, especially Photonz1.

    “I haven’t heard anyone suggesting what the best standards should be”
    Hmmm, I think I have been suggesting quite often on this blog that the Standards should be based on already existing norm referenced assessments that are currently in use, this was originally suggested and was widely supported. What we have now are “aspirational” standards that are so inconsistent that they are virtually unusable, they will discourage learning not enable!

  16. The best standards are national standards, which we measure by running records, probes, AsTTLe, PAT, NEMP, The problem is not the standard the issue is that they have not been moderated as a nation with shared and common understandings, They have a 2 year benchmark for a students one year at school, teachers have not been given substantial professional development in which Crooks and Hattie have both proposed. These National Standards as an assessment without such substantial and robust implementation are to become no more than a national myth, Rebecca Wharton B.Ed (tchng) 2010.

  17. sprout says “Why do I have this overwhelming feeling of deja vu when reading some of these comments, especially Photonz1.

    “I haven’t heard anyone suggesting what the best standards should be”

    Sprout – When you complain about someone, you should at least insert their actual quote instead of falsely inserting one from someone else.

    (your National Standards arguements are no surprise if this is indicative of your level of research)

  18. Sorry Photonz1, I hadn’t intended to attribute the comment to you, I just didn’t link it to Samian. I was just referring to the fact that your comments here are generally predictable and then jumped to quoting Samian, I can understand the confusion.

    Despite my error I think I am well informed because I am a teacher attempting to make sense of the Standards while meeting real the needs of those I teach, I read the reviews from all our most highly regarded educationalists, I read all the material produced by the Ministry and work with the Ministry on related projects. I think I have provided links to most of these in previous discussions to support my comments.

    I know that you do research too, Photonz1, because I recognize the material from Ms Tolley’s public pronouncements and the National Party produced brochure. I admire your undefatigable, but misguided loyalty.

  19. Sprout, at our (primary) school the only measure we have of our school’s overall performance is when the kids leave. We have for years monitored their placement into the secondary school they move on to to see where they slot into the classes relative to other entrants from other schools. That information reassures us ,as a board and as parents, that our teachers/resourcing etc are producing good, or better, school leavers.
    What a crude tool, and only done because we make the effort to chase up our leaver’s new schools.
    A method to compare throughout the children’s learning years with us would allow us a far better gauge from which to tune our systems.
    I agree that there are current methods, PAT’s, Australasian’s etc. But no consistency across all schools.
    I look forward to it.
    I just want the government to be open to tuning up the standards once the first (and subsequent) standards data arrives. The posting by Bex alludes to a lot of this.

  20. Samiam-I guess it depends what your end purpose for assessment is. Any good teacher will have numeracy and literacy assessment information that would inform a parent where their child sits compared to others of the same age (PAT, Probe) and combined with AssTle, NumPA and running records etc can describe the areas where a child can usefully work to make useful progress.

    The difficulty is when the sole purpose of assessment becomes driven by comparing schools. If one used rich data from the assessments listed above a degree of professional judgment is necessary and consistency would be an issue because of the different timing of assessments and the different emphasis individual schools may have to meet the needs of their particular community. In this situation fair comparison of schools would be problematic and when a competitive element is added there is the temptation of “managing” assessment results to get the best outcome.

    The alternative is to have a consistent testing regime across all schools for the sole purpose of comparison. This would result in the English system that ended up narrowing the curriculum to “the test” and an end to teaching a broad curriculum that has made us one of the top five education systems in the world.

    New Zealand has led the world because of our focus on “good teaching” rather than attainment levels. While it is important for each school and all parents to be aware of where individual children sit in terms or attainment and learning needs, school wide achievement will just confirm the the decile level of the school or the socio-economic community the school serves.

    ERO reports look at the quality of leadership within a school, the quality of teaching and the ability of a school to track communicate learning progress. Any school can identify children who have learning needs and require support. Other than comparing schools with flawed data, I cannot see how the current National Standards will deliver anything useful for children and will only drag teachers away from more useful work as they try and make sense of something essentially disfunctional. The only thing of any use is Tolley’s promise of $60 a year for each struggling child (4 hours with a teacher aid?), however when compared to the $90,000 spent to keep each prisoner in captivity it seems farcical.

  21. What’s more, sprout, just as Catherine suggests with sacking boards and replacing them with commissioners, the appointment of statutory managers by Tolley would be unlawful unless she has reasonable grounds to believe that there is a risk to the operation of the school, or to the welfare or educational performance of its students.

    With well-performing schools she would have no reasonable grounds to form such a belief.

  22. Again sprout, that’s all great but I’ll repeat what I said before…
    As a parent I have always looked at school reports as pretty much a waste of time. Tick-boxes and platitudes
    I’m not the only parent who feels like current reporting is a crock, nor is it just this school.
    We need to do better. If a National Standards based system could be made to work then I’m happy to give it a go.
    Our BOT has certainly seen it as an opportunity to see if we can make it work. We can’t do that untill it is given a chance to see some reports and act on them. I can’t see how boycotting the proposal before it has even begun is going to achieve anything.

    focus on “good teaching” you say
    That’s fine too, but what can we, as a board, do about a crap teacher under current employment laws?
    We have a very average teacher at our school, she has been here nearly 20 years. We’d like to invite her to move on. We daren’t.

  23. sprout says “I know that you do research too, Photonz1, because I recognize the material from Ms Tolley’s public pronouncements and the National Party produced brochure. I admire your undefatigable, but misguided loyalty.”

    Actually, I haven’t read a lot from Tolly, and can’t recall quoting (or reading) a Nat Party brochure.

    It’s just common sense when there is near hysteria against a standardising a measuring system that’s not very different to what many schools do now.

    Most schools have implemented it without problem, and a small number are totally outraged about it.

    It’s obvious that the standards are not the problem – there are other issues.

  24. Sprout says “New Zealand has led the world because of our focus on “good teaching”

    And how do we know that?

    Did we use the same standards as other countries? (or did we use lots of different ones?)

    We don’t even use the same standard for all of our children. And some are analysed against standards at all. So how do we know where we really stand?

    Most schools already analyse childrens progress – simply using a slightly different system will not (and has not) made the world end for our childrens learning.

    The improved reporting has been beneficial for kids at our school – and none of “the sky will fall in” hysteria has happened.

  25. “Most schools have implemented it without problem, and a small number are totally outraged about it.
    It’s obvious that the standards are not the problem – there are other issues.”
    Photonz1-Since you claim to generate your views from your inherent “common sense” I implore you to read this independent research on reality of National Standards into our schools. It shows around 80% of Principals and teachers have serious concerns and feel that the implementation is detrimental to teaching and learning. If you only trust your inner feelings rather than research and clear data, your views have limited value.

    http://www.nzcer.org.nz/pdfs/2010-primary-intermediate-national-survey.pdf

  26. The improved reporting has been beneficial for kids at our school – and none of “the sky will fall in” hysteria has happened.

    Holly cow! The sky falling on our heads… When is that going to happen? Well I pray to god that I go to heaven with all the other Natz.

    You’re such a dork photonz!

    [frog: Todd, although I can understand your frustration, let's debate the issue rather than get into ad hominem]

  27. Samian-I think it is amazing that people attribute so much to National Standards that it could never deliver. How can a narrow, flawed assessment system get rid of poorly performing teachers? If a teacher is underperforming so badly in your school then so must your school leaders. School appraisals should identify competency issues and there are clear processes where advice and guidance programmes are put in place which then lead to competency procedures if improvements are not made in the timeframes stated. Teachers are dismissed if they don’t meet our professional standards and this should happen under the current system.

    All previous educational change has been a collaborative process that has meant working alongside the profession and using well funded trials with a few schools to properly adjust the system before implementing it across all schools. Anne Tolley is forcing a flawed system on all schools and children and refuses to engage with the profession regarding the obvious failings, she wants the Standards enforced not fixed. Teacher’s professional organizations refuse to cooperate with the Minister’s advisory groups when she insists the standards won’t change she is only interested in the implementation.

    The boycott is the only avenue left to protect our children from a flawed system that is taking too much time away from important teaching and learning. Schools that are boycotting the Standards are often schools in high decile communities with well informed parents who should have no fear of their school’s performance using any standards. The fact that these schools are concerned must say more about a flawed system rather than self serving coverups and protecting teacher’s personal interests.

  28. sprout says “All previous educational change has been a collaborative process”

    “Teacher’s professional organizations refuse to cooperate with the Minister’s advisory groups”

    Organizations who “refuse to collaborate” do not sound like they are interested in a “collaborative process”.

    Nor does it sound collaborative when boards of trustees are being reported as saying they are being presured against their wishes into the boycott by teachers and principals.

    All the doom and gloom hysteria about standards, yet in practice we’ve seen none of this – just better reporting and leading to better learning.

  29. Photo. Deja vu all over again. It was explained many times by us and others in the past why NACT standards were not a good idea. Some of us are actually qualified in the area, not like Tolley, as well as being parents.
    Teachers first duty. in their code of ethics, is to their students. NACT standards are a step backwards to a narrow “teach to the test” focus on education which has already been thoroughly discredited. Teachers should be opposing NACT standards as all the evidence we have shows this type of narow testing is not part of a good education. Even former supporters in the USA and UK are now saying it has not worked. .

    Here you are again and again just recycling the same tired BS from NACT again and again.

  30. Todd says “You’re such a dork photonz!”

    I see you’ve reached your peak in intelligent, thoughtful and mature input to the discussion.

    Kerry – “teach to the test” is not part of National Standards, just like it wasn’t part of previous standards.

    Like most of the complaints, this is just another red herring that applies to all testing – both current and NS.

    Like the one that children will sudenly feel like failures if they don’t achieve national standards, but are fine when they don’t achieve current standards.

    Or the one that NS will mean there will be league tables for good and bad schools. Which misses the fact that this ALREADY happens with ERO reports, hence we’ve had two pretty poor performing local schools close down this year, and good local schools are building extra classes.

  31. Photonz1-Teachers would love to collaborate but collaboration generally involves a two way approach, Anne Tolley refuses to listen to reasonable concerns and until there is good faith on her part why should teachers engage when the end result is predetermined? Did you read the research I provided?

    I do think that what appears to influence much that you say here is shaped by your experience of your own school, which you have admitted has had poor ERO reviews in the past. I think that you are attributing an improvement in reporting to National Standards only, not just an improvement in practice that many schools already had achieved. You also need to be aware that many high performing schools with well regarded reporting systems have had a negative response from parents when they used the recommended National Standards reporting formats.

    I have been using my discussions with you here to determine how effective government propaganda has been with those who don’t have an education background. I used to be concerned at the lack of understanding you have demonstrated as I thought it may reflect that of a large number of parents. I now realize that you reflect a small minority as the realities of the flaws in the standards are steadily becoming more apparent as more schools and parents engage with them.

  32. I concur with Kerry Thomas, it stands to reason that schools are part of the ‘free market’ and if you read “Praising with Faint Damns” Hattie and Peddie (2003), dishonest reporting is rife in some schools, and with National Standards becoming policy, teachers, students, and parents will be fighting against factors beyond their control such as the huge issue we have this country with child poverty,ESOL and Special needs, mental, emotionally, and phyiscially. It would stand to reason that using a National Standard, that is not nationally moderated or trialled, is not going to diminish dishonest reporting in fact only increase it. Good schools as we know, increase real estate sales in local area’s. I can vouch for that. The government appears to of found a simplistic answer to a deep rooted problem. A problem that will only increase teaching to the test, as what has happened in other countries, and league tabling will occur. Any teacher can teach the test, but good teachers will teach the whole class holistically. league tabling, national standards. Worst case scenario; good teachers, that value accountability and sound pedagogical practices just may go private.

  33. sprout “Did you read the research I provided?”

    Had a bit of a look. As is often the case with surveys, it’s a little bit self sellecting.

    Only 10 % of schools were surveyed. Of these, two thirds of trustees and parents didn’t reply (and not much better from teachers).

    So the sample is already down to between 3 and 4% – and probably only those who feel most strongly about them..

    As well as that, they added the “don’t knows” and “neutrals” to the negative results. So a result for a question that is 15% negative, 65% neutral, and 20% positive, is given a result as 80% negative.

    Another interesting point was that two thirds of parents reported that schools had not suggested activities for children to do at home to help them achieve the desired learning results.

    This is appalling.

    What kids learn at home is a major factor in how well they learn overall, and was one of the important requirements of schools with NS.

    Research shows that when schools provide this information it makes a big difference, but astonishingly we have two thirds of our schools not providing basic information that can make such a big difference.

    So why are so many of our schools not doing something fundamental to childrens learning?

  34. Photonz1-This wasn’t a little survey I linked to but some research by Kathy Wylie who is highly regarded as an independent researcher with no ties to unions or the Ministry. How about a more careful look at what it really says.

  35. What about the student population that goes home to non-English speaking background parents, or parents who can’t afford computers, or parents with severe addictions, or students who have to work for their parents businesses. Has the government thought this out or is a simple blame the teachers, blame the parent game. The government needs to listen to the academics its that simple. This not about politics its a Issue in Assessment, that is why teachers are angry. And no doubt will be speaking with their democratic vote in the next election.

  36. It arises like that now we deduced numerous standards. Many of the boycotting educational institutions will be competent to clearly demonstrate on the established sightings of the honourable, faithful, regulated appraisal tools they have been employing for more years that they are attaining well, and that the Minister has no rational encircles to recognise as accurate there is a danger to the instructive recital of their students.

  37. National Radio had Kathryn Ryan and Matthew Hooton promoting the view that unionists and Labour Party activists are driving opposition to National Standards. Apparently Governments make policy and teachers (as civil servants) are obliged to implement it, end of story!

    Obviously teachers aren’t professionals and education policy should be developed by politicians outside professional influence. Good lord!

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