New Education Minister Chris Hipkins has said that National Standards “will be gone very quickly” under the new coalition government.

“But that’s not to say to say that we don’t want parents to have quality information about how their kids are doing,” he told 1 NEWS on October 27.

“But we want it to be quality information… National Standards are not a good measure of progress.

“We want a bit less testing and a bit more teaching.”

Primary schools will still have to report to parents on individual children’s progress against the eight levels of the curriculum, but National Standards, which set achievement levels for literacy and numeracy from years 1 to 8, will be scrapped, the Minister said in an interview with the New Zealand Herald.

“There are a range of tools that schools can use to do that [report to parents] already, but what we won’t be doing is centrally collecting that data and using it to create league tables. That is a matter between teachers and parents.”

It’s no secret that few teachers and principals are fans of the assessment measures that were introduced by the National government in 2010. This promise by the new Minister will likely be met with widespread relief.

Colin Tarr, of dual-medium primary school Titahi Bay North School, is one principal pleased about the proposed changes. He believes a major flaw in the assessment programme is its inability to show nuance or the complicated nature of a child’s real progress at school.

Colin is the principal representative of the NZEI National Executive and an executive member of the NZEI Principals Council.

“I think it’s a very positive move to shift away from the National Standards and Ngā Whanaketanga regime and turn to a much more holistic, integrated view of a child and their learning,” he says.

“The standards can only ever be a snapshot in time of a particular set of criteria that have been set and can never take into account a child’s context.

“They say a week’s a long time in politics, but – and particularly when you work with young children – a week’s a long time in learning too,” he says.

“A lot can happen in a week. Our little children are like sponges who soak everything up; they’re learning everything all the time. So any time you’re trying to apply a judgement, it can only ever be a historical snapshot. Things move on really quickly. So we report to the Ministry, and the data gets crunched into tables, but you’re always looking at lag times of up to 12 months, on a centrally mandated set of criteria. You’re then trying to make decisions on data that is out of date. That’s not good practice.”

Colin says another problem is the lack acknowledgement of context around the standards/whanake.

“We know that all children learn within a socio-cultural context. So that environment, and the people they engage with, and the immense number of variables around an individual learner are significant contributors to the rate of progress in their learning, but these things are not reflected in the reporting.”

Colin is excited about what the changes might mean for the future of primary teaching in New Zealand.

“What I’m delighted about is that The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, both world-renowned as broad, effective and rich curriculums, can now be celebrated and delivered again across all their wonderful areas.”

Colin says there are plenty of assessment and reporting tools already in use in schools, including PAT, e-asTTle and JAm, among others, and his team intends to continue and expand their use across the dual mediums at Titahi Bay North School.

“There’s no debate that we do need to get the basics right – literacy and numeracy – and primary teachers always ‘go hard’ on these, but it will be wonderful to have more time to light the fire under all the other areas we’ve not had enough time for.”

Lorraine Taylor is principal of Lynmore School in Rotorua. She says that while she and her team are happy to see the end of National Standards, she is also glad to see that the new Minister will keep the accompanying PaCT framework available to schools.

PaCT is an online tool designed by the Ministry of Education to help teachers make reliable judgements on students’ progress and achievements in relation to National Standards.

“We are pleased to see an end to National Standards. It was poorly implemented and poorly supported from its inception,” she says.

“However we’re also pleased to see Minister Hipkins is keeping the PaCT framework available to schools who wish to use it.

“We use the PaCT framework for reading, writing and mathematics as we didn’t and still don’t have any other robust curriculum framework to next-step plan from or track progress against.

“The curriculum is clearly a great document, but is not specific enough for teachers in its finer details to ensure all students get the quality of planning and teaching they deserve. As a result of the PaCT and the Learning Progressions Framework, we have been able to change our assessment to 90 per cent formative, we don’t need to spend large amounts of teaching time on delivering, marking and recording standardised tests.

“It would be very simple to remove references to National Standards in the reporting area of the PaCT and add some new features around progress and reporting. We believe it would be outstanding for teachers to use as a framework for tracking and reporting progress.”

Mark Bracey is a new entrant teacher at Waterlea School in Mangere Bridge, and writes the blog Ease Education.

Mark says he was initially reluctant about the idea of the standards, reflecting on the words of educationalists such as Ken Robinson and Yong Zhao, who have both spoken out against over-assessment and its risk to creativity and critical thought.

In his post Creativity and standards can co-exist in the classroom, Mark writes that he was able to make them work for his students by focusing on building strong relationships with them and developing effective teaching practices on this foundation.

“I now realise that standards and creativity can co-exist in the classroom. I believe my experiences and observations in the classroom over the past few years can validate this. I am becoming increasingly aware that it is not the standards that are the problem,” he writes.

“The real problem is in the way that teachers approach learning (in general) and how they approach the achieving of those standards (specifically).”

Mark says the standards should not take centre stage in what a teacher does in the classroom, but rather be a by-product of effective teaching practice, and the ideology on either side is merely a distraction from the job at hand.

“Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to see political decisions made on ideology and not evidence. The best outcome would be to keep National Standards and at the same time upskill teachers, but that would require investment and honest self-appraisal among teachers,” he says.

“I have been teaching for quite a while – both before the standards were introduced and after. As far as I can see, the prevalent teaching pedagogy has not changed during that time. Similarly, once NS are removed, you will see no discernible difference in pedagogy.

“The research and evidence is on my side. But ‘group think’ is very hard to counteract. It’s funny how implementing evidence-based teaching makes one a ‘disobedient teacher’.”

“There is a real need to improve learning outcomes for our underachieving students. Abandoning National Standards won’t do it. Charter schools won’t do it. Only effective pedagogy will achieve it,” he says.


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