Standards not working in Taranaki, principals say

Stratford Primary principal Kelvin Squire
Stratford Primary principal Kelvin Squire

The Government's literacy and numeracy assessment of primary and intermediate students isn't working in Taranaki, principals say.

A group of five school principals spoke out about national standards - a national primary and intermediate level assessment measuring literacy and numeracy introduced in 2010.

The principals say it needs a complete overhaul and the transient nature of Taranaki's schools make the standards problematic.

Thirty per cent of Spotswood Primary School's roll is transient and Stratford Primary School is not far behind, with a quarter of its roll moving in and out regularly.

"Within a year a hell of a lot of people are coming in the door and a lot are going out the back door," Stratford Primary principal Kelvin Squire said.

"People think with national standards we're comparing apples with apples but you're not."

Welbourn School principal Kay Crofskey says the region's transient nature is a growing trend.

"We're seeing more people change jobs and relocate and it's definitely noticeable in Taranaki that there's more movement," she said.

New Zealand is batting at the top of the list in terms of the OECD's best education systems, Mr Squire said.

"So what is it that we're doing so well? Interestingly you look at Finland who is at the top of the list and they don't have any standards at all, so what is it that they're doing?"

Mr Squire said it is teachers that have kept the country held in such high regard.

Mrs Crofskey said schools were working hard to adopt national standards as they were rolled out to schools.

"This is still so new," she said.

"It's only been two years and there was a very poor induction from the Ministry of Education."

The national standards are a "political narrative" that have been dropped on schools.

Mr Squire says teachers would know how to make the standards work but they were never engaged in the original conversation.

"Before standards came in 2010 schools had their own standards, benchmarks or in the case of our school, milestones," he said.

"They're just a best fit."

Spotswood Primary School is proud of its multicultural roll but principal Allan Day says it means some of the students turn up without a word of English.

"It takes up to seven years for these students to catch up with their colleagues.

"They are making amazing progress but it's going to take seven years for them to meet national standards," he said.

"The standards only recognise performance at a point and don't recognise the growth to get to that point."

Another flaw in the system is the lack of consistency with marking standards, Mr Day said.

"We are still struggling to get a degree of consistency within a relatively large school," he said.

"We haven't even had time yet to go beyond our own school and assess against other teachers."

Mrs Crofskey took the lack of consistency a step further, observing that each school had its own own unique context, and that it was difficult to compare data outside of that.

"As soon as you take data and numbers and put it out on a piece of paper without the context and narratives behind a child and its environment that contributed to that learner, it becomes just data," she said.

Mr Squire agreed, saying the narrative a teacher can provide alongside a student's results was irreplaceable.

"Teachers know if a child came to school with no breakfast or has a bruise in an unusual place on the body and they factor that in," he said.

"They will tell you it doesn't affect their thinking but, sorry, it does and when assessing that child they'll know they could have done slightly better overall on a different day."

Taranaki Daily News