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Damage of National Standards outweigh benefits

Damage of National Standards outweigh benefits

National Standards in schools have had several beneficial outcomes but those are outweighed by the damage being done.

That’s the view of University of Waikato Professor Martin Thrupp, who has just released the third and final RAINS (Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards) report at the annual meeting of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education being held at Otago University.

The three-year study, commissioned by the New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa (NZEI), has investigated how primary and intermediate school Boards of Trustees, leadership teams and teachers are responding to National Standards in everyday practice and how this response is affecting student learning.

Professor Thrupp, from the Faculty of Education, says National Standards have improved teacher understanding of curriculum levels, increased the motivation of some teachers and children and produced some improved targeting of children’s learning needs.

However, he says National Standards are using up too much of teachers precious time and creating tensions amongst them. It has also led to a narrowing of the curriculum and the adverse labelling and positioning of children, he says.

While the publication of National Standards data was always contentious, Professor Thrupp says the potential for National Standards to have “a detrimental impact on day-to-day processes and relationships in and around schools” needs to be taken more seriously.

He says schools are increasingly focussing on literacy and numeracy to the detriment of other subjects such as science or art, narrowing the learning experience for children.

“The Government thought we could have it all but it’s not working out that way.”

Professor Thrupp’s report recommends abandoning the “crude” four-point National Standards scale (‘above’, ‘at’, ‘below’ and ‘well below’) in favour of reporting which curriculum level a child has reached. Teacher should be allowed to discuss age-related expectations of children and any other matters that parents want to discuss, but only in ways that are mindful of the potential for harm such as lowered expectations. Schools should be able to determine student achievement against curriculum levels while informing their decisions through high quality professional development.

The nationwide collection and public reporting of primary achievement data should also be abandoned and while ERO reviews should continue, there should be a different policy informing review teams practices.

Professor Thrupp says adopting the recommendations would not be “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” because schools would still work to curriculum levels as they do now.

“There are less harmful ways for schools to be accountable to parents and the community”.


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