2 May 2011
School holidays over and its back to the normal pattern. I had the chance to attend for varying lengths of time a few conferences over the past two weeks both here in NZ and in Australia.
The period has seen the publishing of NCEA results in New Zealand newspapers and despite dire predictions, civilisation once again did not come to an end. In fact I thought the response relatively muted with an almost helpful editorial in the NZ Herald.
It is still a problem that the reporting of these results is based on the percentage of students in a Year group who succeed in the anticipated “correct” NCEA level for that year. There is no requirement for perhaps even sense in relating Year 11 to NCEA Level 1,Year 12 to Level 2 and so on. The lockstep nature of this habit makes it difficult to actually know what the success is for a cohort. For instance, if 70% of a Year 11 group succeed in getting NCEA Level 1 and are then allowed to proceed to Level 2 in Year 12 and the reported success rate is 75%, the actual success rate in terms of the cohort coming through is at 56%.
But it must be inevitable that there is study at multiple levels and many students get their Level 1 in their Year 12 or even Year 13. How is this communicated?
So in reality the figures might be a pretty poor representation of what is happening with lower decile schools probably being shown as succeeding at levels that are lower than their actual achievement. Higher decile schools are probably about right. The NZ Herald editorial suggests that funding is the only way to lessen the gap between high and low decile schools. It is probably the case that the advantage of high decile schools over low decile schools is still at about 20%.
The matter of National Standards continued to get attention with a “boycott” by some primary schools. The actual number of the boycott group was a little hard to judge from reports. If every principal at that particular conference vote for the boycott then it suggests that perhaps as many as perhaps 30% of primary schools will not be reporting to the National Standards. But it is hard to tell from the reports. It might have been a small majority (and therefore only 15% of schools). It seems as if we have real issues in telling an accurate story. Many parents that I meet are very happy that their childrens’ schools are simply getting on with the job and they appreciate the additional information they are getting.
At the heart of anxieties about NCEA reporting and the National Standards is a view that it could all be damaging to schools when they are compared with each other, if they are compared with each other.
This too is the concern in Australia and a report in last Saturday’s The Australian drew my attention with a headline TEST CHEATS BLOCK THE GOALS OF EDUCATION REFORM. The reform referred to is the National Assessment Programme for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and its associated MySchool website, a government initiative that puts all the information about a school on a website and this includes the latest NAPLAN results. But who are the cheats? There is quite a list of students who are valid omissions from the tests but schools are going beyond this to include students who might lower the reported success rate of the school. Apparently it is common. The cheats are those who lead school and instruct certain parents to keep their children at home on certain days thus removing them from that testing regime that is the NAPLAN. Apparently there is also a developing practice of preparing students for the tests – another form of cheating it is claimed. Some schools are circulating practice papers with exemplar answers.
Thank goodness that New Zealand went down a reporting road rather than a testing road, leaving the testing to the teachers and the school working in the context of their programme.
It is a mockery of professional standards when education is frustrated in reporting to the community on its performance by any lack of openness and certainly by any deliberate attempt to frustrate the system. Those who wish not to take part would be better, rather than merely protesting, to suggest other and even better ways of getting information to the community.
Parents and caregivers want to know what is happening. Indeed it is their right.
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