Not a good trajectory

Last updated 12:37 06/12/2013

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Editorial: Among the "challenges" the Government acknowledges in our latest slide in maths, science and reading, compared to the OECD average, should be an honest re-examination of its own policies and processes.

Though we still perform above average, the slippage recorded in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study of 15-year-olds is striking and accelerating.

After years of relatively static performance, it's been a bad trajectory since the early 2000s, with the biggest drop occurring since 2009.

Education Minister Hekia Parata stands well, well back for her perspective. She says the decline reflects long-standing system issues to which the tested 15-year-olds have been particularly exposed.

Damage done, apparently, during the bedding of a new curriculum, a combination of rising teacher numbers but under-investment in raising their practice, and some pretty poor school cultures.

It is unconvincing to portray this as an example of these 15-year-olds reaping what previous administrations have sewn.

Already the call has issued from Massey University that the Government should reconsider NCEA, which Professor John O'Neill says allows students to narrow their options early in their secondary careers, when a much broader approach is still needed.

The PPTA says secondary schools are funded less per student than most other OECD countries and this has finally caught up with us. The NZEI complains of time lost satisfying the Government's voracious appetite for "unnecessary and irrelevant data"'.

National Standards can't be blamed. That was a good initiative. There needs to be a standard against which parents can compare how their children, and teachers are performing.

In any case, National Standards are still so new that the system didn't capture the 15-year-olds most recently studied.

It needs to be said that although Pisa tests do have international status as a significant indicator, that doesn't make them a supremely authoritive arbiter of international performance.

For one thing, there's suspicion some countries are ensuring that only their better performers are tested, to improve that country's overall educational prestige and attract more of those fees-paying foreign students.

Pisa's chief architect, Andreas Schleicher, says New Zealand still has a strongly performing educational system with a lot of resilience in it. But even so, other countries, chiefly Asian, are making progress we aren't matching.

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And it comes, he says, not from focussing on increasing spending, thanks very much PPTA, but from the ability to target the most talented educators into the most challenging classrooms.

The Pisa line is that even improved education of teachers is a lesser part of the solution than changing the "administrative" forms of school management to more collaborative "professional" models.

The single greatest concern for New Zealand is not so much that we have dropped ranking places in total - from 13th to 23rd in maths, seventh to 18th in science and seventh to 13th in reading - but that we have such a strikingly big, and worsening, gap between our best and worst performing students.

The impact of wider social and economic issues, and their impact on the home environment stands starkly exposed in this.

Perhaps the most shaming aspect of New Zealand education, is that our kids who come to school from the more hard-up backgrounds are significantly less likely to do well in maths than the OECD average.

- The Southland Times

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