Data can prove misleading - NZEI

Last updated 05:00 22/09/2012
Ian Leckie
COLIN SMITH/Fairfax NZ
WARY OF NATIONAL STANDARDS: New Zealand Educational Institute national president Ian Leckie.

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OPINION: By Ian Leckie, national president of NZEI Te Riu Roa.

Why is publishing National Standards data today taking us in the wrong direction?

For children, the evidence is that being told you or your school is "not up to standard" undermines your self-confidence as a learner. It decreases children's engagement and motivation to achieve.

For schools, rankings and comparisons using "ropey" data (as the Prime Minister puts it) unfairly creates "winner" and "loser" schools.

For families and communities, National Standards league tables or other forms of public comparisons simply reinforce people's prejudices about communities and leads to increased educational inequity.

So, what will National Standards league tables actually tell you?  Not much.  In fact, they will be very misleading if you are using them to judge school effectiveness.

They won't tell you the level of improvement of children at a school, nor how engaged or happy individual children are, whether the school is meeting the individual children's needs and whether the teachers are inspiring them.

These are the things that are critical in helping a child achieve a well-rounded education, reach their individual potential, and develop a curiosity and life-long interest in learning.  And that's what our world leading curriculum is about.  It's why our students achieve one of the highest levels of literacy and numeracy in the OECD.

National Standards were introduced purportedly to lift the achievement of the one in five children who were failing, and who were disproportionately likely to be Maori or Pasifika.  But the tragedy is that the negative impacts of National Standards data being published are likely to be felt most in schools in low socio-economic communities where the country's most vulnerable children and their families live.

Poverty, transience and high numbers of children for whom English is not the first language impact heavily on students' achievement and will therefore significantly affect schools' published achievement data. National Standards becomes another form of "naming and shaming" these families, their schools and their communities.

But National Standards league tables will cause harm across the entire gamut of schools. Overseas, it is clear that your school's ranking begins to drive teaching and learning, rather than what every child needs.  Children who are well "above standard" are not going to get much attention because teacher effort becomes focussed on getting children in the middle "over the line".  A dynamic and creative curriculum is narrowed down to what is able to be measured.

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The decision by Fairfax to publish their own version of incomplete and unreliable National Standards data extracted from schools' annual reports is a business decision for a media organisation whose goal is to sell newspapers and attract website hits.  We don't believe the decision meets the fundamental tenets of quality journalism of being fair or accurate. But it is the Government that bears the ultimate responsibility for this decision.

League tables are a move away from equality towards an education system where privatisation will inevitably grow.  Instead, we want to see equity and quality increase in education through collaboration between educators and schools and stronger partnerships between schools, parents and whanau.

Schools are not afraid of being accountable to our community. My school, as others do, has an open invitation to parents to visit us and talk with us, to talk to other parents and to read ERO reviews and our own newsletters.  That is the best way of assessing a school and whether it is right for your child. League tables are great for sport, but they are no good for children, schools or communities.

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