Tuesday, May 19, 2009

National Standards conversations.

This is the text of a letter we have sent to Anne Tolley from our BoT. It outlines my thoughts:
Dear Ms Tolley
Our BoT has asked me to write to you to let you know the outcome and conclusions of the extensive discussions we had at our last BoT meeting about your proposals for National Testing, and now active promotion of league tables.

This section from an article by the ACT Council of Parents & Citizens Associations in Canberra sums up well our feelings about the bigger picture:
Public comparison of school results does not deliver better information for parents or better public accountability to the taxpayer. It produces misleading and inaccurate information. It does not lead to better schools for all. It produces social segregation. It favours privilege and compounds the effects of disadvantage. League tables of school literacy and numeracy outcomes give misleading and inaccurate information about the quality of education because they do not measure the ‘value added’ by the school. School test results are influenced by a variety of factors, not all of which are within the control of schools or teachers. League tables do not distinguish the school contribution to the test results from that of other factors such as family background and resources. Socio-economic background is a major influence on education outcomes. High league table results may reflect more the privileged family background and resources of the community served by the school than the quality of teaching and the education program. As a result, league tables can camouflage underachievement among mediocre schools with favoured intakes. On the other hand, a school could perform badly in comparison with other schools despite high quality teaching and resources because it serves a less-privileged community. Comparisons of school results also lead to inaccurate assessments of school quality because the tests are narrowly based. They do not assess the full range of schooling objectives. For example, they ignore the social and personal development dimensions of schooling which are just as important as the formal academic. Even in academic terms, the subject range and the year cohorts assessed is limited. In other words, league tables do not give a complete picture of the work of schools. (http://www.schoolparents.canberra.net.au/League%20tables%20are%20inaccurate%20&%20unjust.pdf)

At Outram School we do not feel particularly threatened by any form of regional or national comparison of our achievement information. Our children come from families who support and value education. They will do well in most measures simply because of the home and personal factors that John Hattie identifies as comprising 70-80% of the overall learning effect and which school has absolutely no impact over. We also have a highly skilled and capable staff who collectively and individually know our children and their strengths and needs very well. This all bodes very well for our children.

We do however realise that there are quite a number of schools for whom this is not always the case. The factors outside the influence of the school are not as positive for their children. Is it really fair to compare their overall endpoint achievement with ours? In some cases the entry level of our children is higher than the mid to exit levels of children from schools in areas where education is valued less. Even some of our own children point towards this being true. What IS the point of simply comparing end point achievement of our respective schools, or non-alike schools across the country? How is this information useful for us or anyone else to identify next learning steps for our children or our school as a whole?

At Outram School we already have tools to identify the value we add to our children's learning in literacy, numeracy, PE/PA, and are working on Inquiry/Topic areas at the moment. This is a far more useful measure of what we actually achieve for our children than simply setting some bar they have to intellectually leap over. We determine where they are at regular intervals and track both their learning trajectory AND summative end points. This enables us to see how well children are learning as well as the level at which they are operating. For us national testing will do nothing but add to an already high workload for our staff. We see little of use in the measure you are promoting for our school or for any of our colleagues.

Surely the acid test for any assessment is how it informs next step learning. Does national testing pass this test? We would argue not.

We have grave concerns as a Board about the long-term detrimental impact National Testing regimes have had on the systems, curriculum and the learning of children in England and the USA in particular. We foresee the same impact and outcome here; a narrowing of classroom programmes simply to ensure the maximum number of children 'pass' national standards. All this to the detriment of Arts, 'Topic' and PE/PA programmes in particular. We have worked for quite a number of years now at Outram School to develop an innovative and creative curriculum with a focus on thinking, creativity and children having opportunities to discover their passions. On children being provided with as many opportunities as possible to experience as wide a range of learning as possible. We see national testing and league tables in particular as putting this at risk.

We have an internationally lauded curriculum about to be gazetted in NZ. How is what you are proposing going to support and enhance its introduction? We already have NEMP, PAT, ASTTLE, ERO, etc to ensure national consistency and that we have an overall picture of our system-wide achievement as well as valid and reliable data for individual schools. Why do we need another measure to tell us the same thing? PISA and other international comparisons show us we are achieving very well by international measures as well. Why do we need to follow the example of those who are achieving lower on the international measures and implement national testing and league tables. Surely we should be aiming higher than that!

We would be interested in your response.

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