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Smith dismays teachers with national Decision

Education Minister Nick Smith dismayed about 400 representatives when he announced that compulsory national testing will go ahead as a pilot in his speech to the 116th annual meeting of NZEI Te Riu Roa today.

The minister has been told repeatedly by parents, teachers and principals that compulsory national testing of primary students would not be in the best educational interests of children. National testing overseas has proved unpopular, expensive and of no value in raising school achievement.

“Teachers already use a variety of assessment methods as part of their teaching methods and choose those that best suit individual children. Parents need to know how they can help their own children progress,” said NZEI national president Darrell Ward. “Machine-marked pen and paper tests results won’t provide this vital information.”

On the positive side, the minister also announced that assessment resource banks will be further developed and the National Education Monitoring Project strengthened.

Dr Smith also confirmed that the national advisory service, experienced as a lifeline by many schools, will be made contestable except for the rural service.

After months of principal after principal explaining to the minister the value to schools of having the centralised service the announcement was viewed as destructive.

The decision, if implemented, would mean $21.5 million devolved directly to schools or about $600 per teacher to be used to hire advisory services. “That’s hardly enough to cover basic costs for a week,” Darrell Ward said. Also, there would be no guarantee that appropriate services would be provided where they are needed.

Representatives also found the minister’s “S.P.I.C.E. for Education” speech deficient in that he made no reference to the early childhood and support staff sectors, and gave lame responses to questions about pay parity for kindergarten teachers and professional recognition for support staff.


Myths about national testing

NZEI Te Riu Roa is not opposed to student assessment or the making available of more information to parents. What it is opposed to is simplistic, narrowly-based testing which may be used indiscriminately in the media to rank "good" and "bad" schools. A number of myths have grown up around national testing:

Parents are clamouring for compulsory national testing information.
Parents want and have a right to know how their children are progressing at school. There is already dependable high quality information about student achievement from the time they start school. Boards have policies to monitor student progress and achievement. This information comes from several sources, eg, NEMP, ARBs, school entry assessment. Compulsory national tests focus only on aspects of numeracy and literacy. They do not cover the breadth of a child's learning nor now well the child has progressed measured against his or her own achievement in every area.

Compulsory national testing will show if school programmes are effective
No. National testing does not test how well a school performs. It cannot measure how much children have learnt since they started. Currently, school certificate results are used by the media to illustrate 'good schools'. Yet they do not show which children are truly making the most progress. So teachers could be pressured to teach to the test. National testing could have a negative impact on school programmes and individual students' learning opportunities.

Compulsory national tests will tell parents if their child's school is a good one
No. Schools cannot be compared in this simplistic way. Children come from different backgrounds and experiences. Their needs are different. The Education Review Office reviews school performance every three years. ERO produces a report made available to parents.

Teachers are opposed to compulsory national tests for children because teachers are not professionally honest.
Teachers are opposed because the tests are not educationally sound. Overseas experience shows that tests do not improve learning. They are counter-productive. They hamper schools from providing broad and rich learning opportunities. Instead of education programmes being better informed by tests, there is evidence to the contrary.

The overseas experience shows that parents want compulsory national testing.
There has been international opposition to this form of assessment from both teachers and parents. In Scotland, England, and Victoria, Australia, for example, parents refused to send their children to school to sit national tests. In New South Wales, legislation had to be passed to protect schools from inappropriate comparisons. Parents and teachers didn't want tests there and they do not want them in New Zealand. We already have good information. We simply need to use it to talk with parents.

Teachers currently assess children a lot but the information is of little use.
Teachers in every school are constantly collecting and marking work which is used for assessment. They use a variety of assessment methods as part of their teaching programmes. These assessments are not used to compare children. Teachers use this information to develop learning programmes and to keep a record on progress and achievement of each child. Teachers choose the assessment that best suits the needs of children. For example, in a class where many children speak English as a second language, written tests are unlikely to be used for assessing numeracy. Written tests usually require reading in English and are unlikely to give a true picture of a child's ability.

Ten more reasons why we oppose national testing.
1. Continuous assessment is more effective than a 'moment in time' test.
2. Testing takes up teaching time and won't improve learning.
3. Test results can be used to label individual children.
4. Tests are often written to favour one group of students.
5. Test results are often given more importance than more accurate forms of assessment.
6. Test results can be interpreted unfairly.
7. National testing does not test how well a school performs.
8. Huge sums of money and learning would be diverted to testing on an annual basis.
9. Testing is unnecessary to achieve higher learning standards.
10. Testing is stressful for children.

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