National standards 'destroying schools'

JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 07:57 28/11/2013

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A leading education expert says the Government needs to scrap national standards because the teaching system is destroying the culture of schools.

The third and final Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) report, by Waikato University professor Martin Thrupp, titled National Standards and the Damage Done, said although there were some positive points in the programme, it was narrowing the curriculum and forcing a massive workload on to teachers.

Prof Thrupp said the information gathered from national standards should not be broadcast to the nation, and it was damaging the culture of the country's education system.

One of the biggest issues with the programme was the Overall Teacher Judgment (OTJ) system.

OTJ was a difficult tool to use and accumulating the evidence to prove that a child was at a certain level - as opposed to trusting a teacher's judgment - was time consuming and unnecessary, Prof Thrupp said.

"It's kind of like how long is a piece of string, because how many bits of assessment do you put into your OTJ? It just turns the whole thing into a huge palaver," he said.

"[Teachers] are preoccupied by it. They're spending much more time on this OTJ making than I would like to see them doing because teacher time is precious. The more time they spend on that, the less time they've got for preparation, for actually teaching the class."

Another problem arising from the implementation of national standards was a "narrowing" of education, with a lot of schools focusing on reading, writing and maths, while other important factors in primary education, such as social sciences and arts, were being left behind.

Along with these issues, Prof Thrupp said the system had the potential to damage children's self esteem if the "positioning and labelling of children" was public, as was being done in some schools.

"Some schools are being quite explicit about positioning kids against the others in the class. You'll get a poster on the wall and it'll have the different levels of the kids, sometimes colour coded."

And although there are positive aspects, such as a heightened understanding of curriculum among teachers, Prof Thrupp said the negatives far outweighed the positives and he would like to see the system canned.

"We've recommended in the report that they abandon the four point scale, and they just use the underlying curriculum levels as the basis of assessment . . . It would get rid of the stigmatising language of the national standards but I think more importantly, you get get back to a focus on progress."

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But according to Waikato Principals' Association chairman John Coulam, the standards are here to stay - although that does not mean he's happy about it.

The most upsetting thing was the sharing of data, he said. "To compare schools is wrong. It's absolutely wrong. To compare students is wrong."

Prof Thrupp will release his report at a conference at Otago University today.

- Waikato

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