National Standards is still one of the most contentious issues in primary education. The Labour Party have said that they’ll rescind National’s centrepiece education policy from the 2008 election, should they find themselves in the big office after September 23 this year.

Of course, what we mostly get around the National Standards debate is the polarised opinion of policy makers and pundits. Here at Education Central, while of course we want to pass on the thinking of those who design policy and those who advocate for one group or another, we also want to know the thoughts of those charged with enacting these policies. There’s a big hole that needs filling in the National Standards debate: the thoughts of teachers themselves!

From Samantha, via email:

“I believe National Standards don’t reflect personal progress – which can be huge but still makes them ‘below’ standard.

“This undermines the confidence of students and teachers and takes the focus off authentic learning and on to an exclusively results driven approach.

“We are trying to teach life and learning skills for a future generation whose careers are not even likely to be invented yet, while at the same time telling kids they are not good enough because they are not where somebody has decided they should be for their age group in reading, writing and maths.

“They are not standardised and so should not be used to gauge any form of success or comparison between children/schools. Children develop at different rates and should not be measured on their time at school as some children take longer to be developmentally ready to learn. Success in life should not be based on how you compare with others.”

From the Facebook community: are you for or against National Standards?

Sheherazad Bhote:

“National Standards don’t support the idea that children learn at their own speed. The language of ‘above’, ‘at’ or ‘below’ the standard is just cruel. As a science teacher in a school with Year 7 and Year 8 students, I struggle to make a judgement with the arbitrary statements in the literacy language progressions, as do members of the English department, for that matter.”

Shelley Lock:

“What’s the alternative? Can’t make a decision without knowing what it will be replaced with.”

Brenda Dolan:

“Against it for at least up to end of Year 4. Before then children are developing at their own pace and are not ready for this ‘one box fits all’ standardised data -gathering exercise. It is totally unfair on children, parents and teachers.”

Aroha Stewart:

“I believe there is a place for National Standards, especially for older children but not for those under seven years of age. The pressure we put on little ones right from entry into school is ridiculous. It’s time to be sensible and allow education to be guided by educational and brain development experts, not politicians!”

Jess Byrne:

“I am opposed to National Standards. I don’t feel they are an accurate measure – particularly for our youngest students. I am also very concerned that for our most vulnerable students that these measures could be very detrimental to their self-esteem. They clearly highlight the student’s deficits and take away any recognition of strengths in other learning areas. I think there probably needs to be some systems in place for identified schools who don’t have rigorous systems for monitoring student achievement, or communicating student achievement with whānau, but I would imagine that for the vast majority of schools it has simply created an unmanageable workload for so many wonderful teachers.”

Frian Wadia:

“Definitely against, as [National Standards] does not benefit our children in any way. It definitely isn’t standardised, so it does not provide an accurate comparative picture of the children’s learning either. Worse by far is how it portrays children with special needs and diverse learning needs as incapable of ever learning, achieving or progressing, and thereby lowers their self-esteem and morale. I agree there needs to be reporting to the Ministry of Education and parents for accountability and tracking progress but National Standards is definitely not it!!”

Kerri Bailey:

“Against – children come to us from different walks of life; they don’t all start from the same place, so why should they be judged by a set end point? I have children in Year 3 this year that are 11 months apart in age, but yet when they go into Year 4, they will be compared against the same standard when one has had a full 11 months less education than the other – ridiculous!”

And finally, an excerpted submission emailed from Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand:

“Here in New Zealand we have a wonderful national curriculum that allows teachers to be innovative and creative in their work with students.

“At first, this allowed a truly responsive curriculum to be implemented in schools around the country, and there were some wonderful things happening in schools. But with the advent of National Standards and the pressure to have children reach these, and despite teacher’s best efforts to avoid it, the depth and breadth of the curriculum has been largely reduced to reading, writing and mathematics.

“We know that students learn at their own pace and that when this pace is disturbed, anxieties and aversions can and often do result. Forcing ākonga to try to reach something that is, perhaps, out of reach for the moment, can cause ākonga to feel hurried and anxious, which shows up in many different ways. National Standards expects that learning will happen in linear fashion rather than the acceleration and pauses which are more common.

“We consider that too much time is being spent testing rather than teaching. Results can be inaccurate as they depend on the type of test, the quality of the OTJ and the moderation processes and for students who are not good at being tested they are considered to be failing again and again, reinforcing from a young age that learning is not for them. Teachers also feel anxious and hurried as ākonga in their classes are ‘failing’ to reach the National Standards. This creates even more, rather than less, focus on them.

“For parents and whānau, we completely concur that they should be kept informed and have the right to know how their child is doing. They are usually able to do this through regular reports, parent interviews, chats and emails. These days, engaging with parents is harder and harder to do as everyone is so busy.

“An app [National Standards Plus] that takes away the need to engage with the school and teacher will not do anything to build partnership. We feel that this could be even more harmful to the students who most need extra encouragement and support. The conversation around what the child is doing, what work is happening, the effort that is going into things is not there to temper the result in the app. We consider there are far better ways to spend taxpayer dollars than this.

“We consider that clear and open communication between parents, whānau, and kura is essential to support the learning of all children. We also believe that there are some advantages to knowing exactly how older children (older than nine) are doing in comparison with their age mates; however, we do not think that National Standards have been beneficial for ākonga throughout Aotearoa.

“We have gone from producing young people who are innovative problem solvers keen to give things a go, to anxious, risk-averse young people, who worry too much about how they are going to be judged to try anything new. Taking stress out of learning is essential for the progress of any child. Taking stress out of teacher’s lives to ensure certain benchmarks are reached by certain times will also benefit the learner.”


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