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Standards and years and progress

Stuart Middleton


24 October 2017

It is one thing to see merit in scrapping National Standards in primary schools but quite another to know what to put in its place.

The first cohort of students to proceed through primary education under the National Standards regime of reporting progress which was introduced in 2010, will be about to move on to secondary school. This pudding is about to be eaten and that will be the proof of whether or not they have had an impact on student performance.

National standards were introduced for a set of very reasonable expectations which were:

  • that teachers were able to assess the progress being made by their students in key areas such as reading, writing and mathematics;
  • that these would effectively communicate the level of progress being made to parents and caregivers;
  • that the levels of progress would be calibrated so as to ensure that students were ready for secondary school when they moved on.

The evidence of the past few years shows that Maori students have stay around the 68% level in the areas reported on, while Pasifika, Asian and European/Pakeha have all dropped back. Numbers of students reaching ‘at’ or ‘above’ the standards have been flat for the past five years. As these were the 2011-2016 results, teachers should by then have become proficient in applying the standards.

More worrying perhaps is that student achievement in primary schools seemingly get worse rather than better from Year 1 to Year 8.

So there could be an argument around whether or not a standards approach will raise achievement but there can be no argument that parents and caregivers deserve to have clear and accurate information about progress and whether students are being prepared for secondary school – a key role for any primary education system.

As the call to abandon National Standards has been consistent from their inception, it is strange that no-one, not teachers, not academics, and not even journalists, have been able to suggest a replacement for them. Is it simply beyond education systems to account for the impact of teaching and learning to be reported to the community one way or another. Can not a simple statement be made about the progress made and whether the student is “on track” or not.

Ironically, in the old days your progression was measured in “standards” which referred to the level of class you were in and taking the school report home also carried in it the confirmation that Mary would be going up into the next standard the following year – a statement greatly valued. “Standards” have been replaced by “Years” and your education is an automatic elevation through the standards.

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