Ratings may harm gifted pupils - principal

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2012

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The education of New Zealand's most gifted children will be at risk if the Government publishes league tables, a Christchurch school principal says.

Paparoa Street School principal and New Zealand Principals' Federation vice-president Philip Harding said that if schools were publicly judged solely on their national standards pass rate, they would put more emphasis on getting low-achieving pupils up to the standard rather than pushing their top pupils.

"Why worry about extending the most able students if they are above the line?"

There was no evidence of this happening yet, and it was a dire prediction, but it was likely to quietly happen over the next two to three years, he said.

Schools had a legislative requirement to extend talented pupils, but there would be a subtle decline in the focus, he said.

Schools would not ignore gifted pupils, but over time their extension opportunities would be diluted as schools focused on getting pupils across the line, he said.

The Government is going ahead with plans to release league tables for primary schools in September, based on national standards pass rates, despite strong opposition from the education sector.

The standards, put in place last year, focus on reading, writing and mathematics.

Harding said league tables would encourage schools to put too much emphasis on those three areas, to the detriment of other curriculum areas.

There was a fear teachers would "teach to the test", he said.

Louise Tapper, who has been involved in education for the gifted for 20 years and is completing a PhD in the achievements of gifted and talented pupils in New Zealand, said she was worried the national standards and league tables removed any impetus for teachers to push gifted pupils.

Many children sat in classrooms "knowing everything there is to know" and ended up becoming unpaid teacher aides, she said.

There was a risk gifted and talented children who were not provided with extension learning would see no point in doing work in the classroom, Tapper said.

Prime Minister John Key said this week the data from schools was "very ropey" and difficult to interpret, but he hoped it would become more consistent.

New Zealand Educational Institute president Ian Leckie said league tables would not give an accurate assessment of a school's performance. It would be irresponsible for the Government to release information that could mislead parents and wrongly label schools as "failing".

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- The Press

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