School caught faking national standards

SIMON DAY
Last updated 05:00 09/03/2014
Parua Bay School
Fairfax NZ

RESULTS ALTERED: Parua Bay School.

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A Northland primary school has been caught faking its national standards results to make them look better.

In December 2013 the board at Parua Bay School in Whangarei Heads was alerted to the tampering of student achievement levels in the school's data management system.

After an investigation by the board the teacher responsible could not be found, according to a statement from board chairman David Grindle.

The altered data was corrected and systems put in place to ensure that no further inappropriate data alteration could occur.

But Parua Bay School parents, who were informed of the incident last week, said it cast doubt over the accuracy of their children's results.

"People are starting to wonder, was my child that successful or not," a parent, who did not want to be named, said.

The parent was not worried about the quality of education at Parua Bay School but the revelation that national standards results were doctored, and the ease with which they were manipulated, was concerning.

"It was a bit of an eye-opener for me. You wonder how many other schools this is happening in," the parent said.

Education Minister Hekia Parata refused to address the incident, saying it was an operational issue. But Labour Education spokesman Chris Hipkins said it was further evidence that national standards were failing to provide any meaningful data to teachers or parents.

"Hekia Parata has her head buried in the sand if she believes national standards is any way a reliable measure of school performance," Hipkins said.

"The issue is that they are neither national nor standards. The high stakes nature of the system is nonsense. It is very easily manipulated, it is heavily subjective and is no way a reliable measurement of school performance," he said. "The higher stakes you make it, the more pressure there is going to be on schools to make their subjective judgments to increase their achievement results."

The Ministry of Education plans to review the school's data next week and said it was very unusual for a teacher to deliberately distort achievement results for a child.

The ministry refused to say whether it knew of any other cases of national standards tampering, whether it was trying to identify the teacher who altered the results, or whether parents and teachers could continue to have confidence in the system.

Pressure to produce results within the framework of the standards had led to generic teaching rather than a focus on individual students, according to another Parua Bay School parent.

"I've heard from teachers that national standards are putting a lot of pressure on them to document these standard tests rather than allowing children to have their individual strengths recognised," said Zoe Cumming, who has a 5-year-old child at Parua Bay School.

Martin Thrupp of Waikato University, who led a three-year study into national standards, said the system is filled with flaws that restrict teachers and plant labels on children.

"The tail starts to wag the dog and the assessment system kind of takes over and pushes out a broader approach and people tend to go more directly for activities that are going to more directly push kids along in terms of the national standards," Thrupp said.

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And the labelling of children under the four-point scale has had a negative effect on children, said Thrupp.

"There are parents who are not sharing their kid's report with them because they don't think it is very helpful. Parents who don't want their children to be told they are ‘well below' because they don't think that is a very constructive thing and they don't like that kind of labelling," he said.

The national standards were National's main education policy coming in to the 2008 election and, because of the politics, the Government was standing by a system that was failing, Thrupp said.

"Were it less political, I think the Government would have backed down on it. If they were just looking at the education side of it, I think they would have backed down on it," he said.

National standards were introduced in 2010 and provide teachers with assessment guidelines in literacy and numeracy in an attempt to tell teachers and parents where children are at in their learning.

Achievement is broken down into a four-point scale, where students are assessed as above, at, below or well below the national standard.

- Sunday Star Times

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