We have to decide what school assessment should look like and what would work best for our children. Photo / 123RF

Not once, in the seven years we’ve suffered National Standards, has a parent approached me or my teaching staff and said: “I wish I could track my child’s progress in real time on my mobile phone.”

Constant measuring of reading, writing and mathematics won’t help our students to grow – National Standards data has proven that. Students and their teachers already know what their next learning steps are, and communication with whānau about a student’s progress and any social, behavioural or academic concerns should be happening as needed – in context, not through an instant message of a child’s latest grades.

That’s what made National’s education policy so infuriating and upsetting for educators. It’s as if the Government has deliberately set out to do the opposite of what the experts on the ground have been calling for.

For years we’ve been told there’s no extra money for early childhood education (sure the money is increasing, but for participation, not on a per-child basis) and schools have been struggling to keep up with increasing running costs because of their near-stagnant operations grants. Meanwhile, students’ learning and behavioural needs have been growing faster than the provision of ministry resources. What’s needed is more funding for quality early childhood education, teacher aides, one-on-one teaching time and support for children with special learning and behavioural needs, so every child can reach their potential.

But astoundingly, $380 million was announced for some nice-to-haves on a vague timeline, while schools are crying out for the basics. However, the biggest insult was still to come. National plans to spend millions building a computer tool to track children’s progress as it happens, based on shonky, arbitrary National Standards, that teachers still despise because of the harm to children’s learning and wellbeing.

Requiring teachers to input standardised assessment data across reading, writing and mathematics in real time will reduce the time teachers have with children and increase children’s anxiety about learning.

Measurement is not a cause of growth. And by only emphasising a small part of the curriculum (let’s call them the 3Rs) as being of importance, everything else suffers – science, the arts, ICT, physical education.

It’s low-decile schools that suffer the most because the strengths these children bring to school are not the things that this Government has prioritised with their narrow focus on the 3Rs. Children with special learning needs are particularly disadvantaged – we’re still required to assess and report their progress like we would for any other child.

All the New Zealand and international evidence shows that a broad, rich curriculum stimulates thinking and learning across all subjects. As they’ve discovered in the US, performance in reading, writing and mathematics drops even further when you sideline the “fun stuff” to focus on the 3Rs and constant testing.

Here in New Zealand we have to decide what school assessment should look like and what would work best for our children, with their glorious range of talents and abilities. To make that decision it’s imperative that we include the educators who work with these children.

Something as important as the education of our children shouldn’t be announced as a party policy without consulting those who will be affected by it, or are expected to make it work. Such a move shows a lack of trust in the professionalism of teachers, and doubling down on a policy that we have been fighting against for seven years shows disdain for our professional judgment.

Many principals fought tooth and nail against the introduction of National Standards – some to the point of being threatened with statutory management before they buckled.

We are still standing strong against National Standards by refusing to buy into using the Government’s online progress and consistency tool, designed to “improve the reliability” of reporting in a system we believe is fundamentally flawed.

Teachers working in partnership with parents and whānau need to work together to have National Standards scrapped.

Parents have expressed their wariness of National Standards. They want to be partners in their kids’ learning and have quality meaningful assessment based on face-to-face relationships within a rich and varied curriculum.

Educators want this too.

Lynda Stuart is president of the primary teachers’ union, NZEI Te Riu Roa.

Source: NZ Herald


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