National Standards were a flagship education policy introduced in New Zealand in 2010 to assess all children aged five to 12 (or from year 1 to year 8) as being at, above, below, or well below benchmarks in reading, writing, and maths.
National Standards divided schools and teachers from the outset. While some have embraced them, many teachers dislike the standards as they narrow the focus of their teaching to literacy and numeracy at the expense of other subjects. Many schools dislike them because the system allows their school’s performance, as based on the standards data, to be ranked against others. There are also concerns around consistency within and across schools when it comes to marking National Standards. There are concerns that National Standards data only represents the value added by teachers and doesn’t take into account the starting level of the child.
Many see the overall teacher judgement (OTJ) system as the strength of National Standards. Instead of focusing on tests alone, many inputs form the assessment of a child’s learning. In making their judgements on students’ work, teachers use whichever tests they think are most appropriate and combine these results with everyday assessments and their own observations.
The risk is that, by veering away from assessment that is focused on meeting specific criteria and keeping standards broad, the standards will become vague and subject to varying teacher opinions. One teacher’s opinion of what might be acceptable to meet the standard might not be shared by another. Children who are deemed to be ‘at’ the standard at one school might be rated ‘below’ or ‘above’ at another.
The Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT) was pegged as the solution to a lack of consistency in National Standards. The PaCT is essentially an online tool that captures a series of teachers’ judgements on aspects of mathematics, reading and writing, turns that into a PaCT score range, and recommends an overall judgement that a teacher can confirm or review.
However, in 2015 Education Review shared the findings of a report (National Standards: School Sample Monitoring & Evaluation Project 2010–2013) that revealed that just 40 per cent of OTJs matched the ratings generated by the PaCT.
Even with better moderation, concerns remain over the effect of league table-type comparisons. League tables have the undesired effect of driving schools to focus heavily on the aspects upon which they are assessed.
Many believe that the publication of the National Standards data is damaging for schools as it leads to schools being unfairly judged by the media and therefore by their local communities. In turn, this will lead to schools limiting their curriculum as they focus on the high-stakes National Standards subjects.
However, the hope is that the data presented will become more consistent over time and provide an opportunity to dig deeper into the information at the learner level.
More coverage in Education Review:
Early days of National Standards: www.educationreview.co.nz/magazine/june-2010/new-article/#.WEYLj2ee3IU