14 April 2011
There is a lot of talk these days about reporting. Most public is the debate about National Standards. The subtlety of most of it is lost on the public that includes parents and grandparents who simply continue to be confused by public statements which trumpets out that Group A or Association B are “opposed to National Standards”. At one level this is Gilbertian and to argue that schools will not report on a child’s standard of achievement because of issues they claim to have with a government brings a new dimension to the word “professional”.
I have some questions about this:
- Do parents wish to know or even perhaps have a right to know this information?
- Has this been done effectively and diligently in the past?
- If the current system of National Standards is flawed, then who would you expect to be able to design a better approach – dentists, panel beaters or school principals and teachers?
- Why have Principals not embraced the intention of National Standards and come up with a better approach?
The intent of the government is clear – parents have a need and a right to know how their children are doing. Schools are good at assessment and evaluation (this is constantly stated by the Minister) but less good at communicating to parents about this information.
The other members of the ESES (English-Speaking Education Systems) Group have decided to go down a testing route and there are serious issues with this that are well-known and are becoming apparent. New Zealand has chosen a reporting route. The spokesperson of the principals who told national radio that “we were adopting this system just as other countries were dropping it” simply didn’t know what those other countries were doing nor did he appreciate the critical differences.
Some years ago I wrote about an analysis I had done of all the school reports that a single child had received over thirteen years from his various schools. I can reveal now that the child was me. My parents received almost no information about my academic growth and progress. The single exception was a Form 4 English teacher who stated that “Stuart writes quite well.” A plethora of test results, the assignment of As and Bs and Cs all without much explanation, had to do.
As a result I suspect that my parents focussed on the things they understood – behaviour, politeness, enthusiasm, and so on. They beamed with pleasure when those were As or Bs and any discussion of reports that took place simply ended with their conclusion that there was room for improvement. I never received a gift for outstanding achievement or “passing” this that or the other. You went to school for a purpose – to learn things – and the teachers were trusted to do what they had to do to see that done. But that was a simpler time when teachers were trusted and the relationship with a community much less fraught. Parents sent you to schools and teachers did what they were best at doing. Trouble at school meant trouble to the power2 at home.
It’s much more complex these days. For a variety of reasons there is less trust in the system to work its magic with all children as the evidence grows that there is significant failure matched only by marginal and incremental improvements in achievement, there is a discontinuity between education and employment, there is a generation or a fairly large group of parents and caregivers who themselves are dislocated from the process. It is very much harder for everyone wrapped up in this equation.
What we do need is to nail the issue of reporting to parents and caregivers – National Standards or some better system if the principals and the schools they represent can come up with one. Bland refusal at the first fence is not enough.
What we do not need is increased confusion in the community. Eventually we have to have parents centrally involved in the decisions about educational pathways for their children. On what basis are they to make these life-critical decisions, provide guidance to the ones they love most dearly and, in a system committed to equity, be able to do all this with the effectiveness of other members of the community?
This week the legal profession went public in a discussion of legal aid. Compare the style of this discussion with that of national standards from the different professions’ perspectives.