Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mary Chamberlain's defense of National Standards.

Mary Chamberlain's new role seems to be defending the imposition of the Government's populist simplistic National Standards.After having observed her present 'her' ideas at a seminar held in Northland I am sure her heart is not in it. After her great work in developing the highly respected New Zealand Curriculum this diversion is a shame. This blog is in response to a letter she wrote to our local paper defending the standards.

It is sad to see Mary Chamberlain, a highly respected educator, in the role of the Government's 'spin doctor', defending the educationally unsound National Standards.

While Mary acknowledges that New Zealand students are among the best in the world in student achievement it is the worrying 'achievement tail' that requires the implementation of the National Standards to identify failing students. National Standards, she writes, are to be seen as 'signposts' for teachers and parents to indicate progress and suggest next steps.

Sounds sensible enough but she neglects to say that schools can already identify the children who are underachieving and also know that most of this underachievement relates to the considerable disadvantages in the circumstances of the children's lives. Anyone who has taught in low decile schools will understand this and parents, who do their best to get their children into high decile schools, obviously have good idea.

The introduction of National Standards in other countries have failed to make any lasting difference for such children. In the UK achievement at first lifted, then plateaued and now is trending down. Worse still children's attitudes and enjoyment of maths and reading is falling and teacher morale is at risk. Some price to pay for a politically imposed idea.

What is really required is to improve the home circumstances of the children 'at risk' and to provide schools some real resources and teachers professional assistance.

As for Mary saying that National Standards will not involve 'testing', children instead will be 'assessed', what does this mean? Standards, she assures, will also not result in 'teachers being pressurised to teach the tests'. In this she is being naive as this is exactly what has happened in countries that have introduced National Standards. In these countries other important areas, including the creative arts and science, have been sidelined as teachers focus on literacy and numeracy. Teachers have become snowed under collecting evidence and data taking them away from interacting with their students. Most parents know ,and research backs this up, that it is the quality of the teacher, and the relationship with their child, that really makes the difference. Under National Standards every learner will be assessed against the Standards as below, average, or above average twice a year. This will create winners and losers.

Mary concludes her letter by saying 'National Standards will improve teaching and learning in ALL areas of the curriculum and for ALL students'. This is being somewhat economical with the truth. She fails to mention that the current range of school advisers ( in physical eduction,art, music, science, technology, environmental education etc) will now be restricted to literacy and numeracy. For many students this will restrict their chances to shine in areas they love and, for teachers, reduce support for them to introduce the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum - one they are keen to implement.

Our children deserve better than being sacrificed by the hurried introduction of an idea that has been shown to fail in the countries where it has been introduced.

The best answer to National Standards would be to run proper trials to see if they do work with underachieving students before imposing them on all schools.

This is what Mary should be fighting for.

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