Value of national standards to Porirua schools arguable

Editorial

BY KRIS DANDO
Last updated 08:57 02/10/2012

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OPINION: If you want to get a Porirua school principal's blood pressure spiking, say the phrases "national standards" or "league tables". You're bound to get your ear bent - but rightfully so.

Porirua has a high number of low-decile schools that have been affected by changes in Government education policy. National standards were met with a hue and cry by local principals and they weren't shy in speaking out.

Expressions such as "poorly thought out", "no way to measure value-added" and "heavy-handed" were communicated to Kapi-Mana News last year. The creation of the Boards Taking Action Coalition in this region was a sure sign that opposition to the National Government's policies would not be taken lying down.

Last week's publication of schools' data, effectively showing how each was faring in literacy and numeracy has readers largely in two camps - happy that the information has been made public, or scathing that the publishing of "league tables" is meaningless.

It has created plenty of discussion in Porirua. A group of primary principals met with Kapi-Mana News last week and their views are succinctly put on page 3 of this week's edition.

The essence is that league tables are not an accurate representation of student achievement, schools assess differently and it is not possible to compare one school with another accurately.

As a journalist, I have no problem with the printing of schools' scores, whether it be on the sportsfield, in barbershop or academia. There is nothing wrong with scrutiny.

As a parent, however, I am well aware the issuing of national standards data is missing one thing: Context. Is "achievement" in the academic sense a measure of what a school does? Do better marks at maths and reading and writing make students better people?

Achieving in life comes down to balance, and high test scores do not necessarily make people contribute to their community and live healthy lives. I want to know what the school my 3-year-old will one day attend is doing outside the classroom, just as much as indoors.

Don't publicly available Education Review office reports contain detailed information about the educational value being offered by each school?

Statisticians, researchers and educational professionals have condemned league tables as unscientific and inaccurate. There seems to be just too much uncertainty and the Porirua principals have one voice when it comes to this sentiment.

There is a danger of parents being pitted against schools. Porirua has the most supportive of school communities and if this is lost, I shudder to think of the consequences.

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