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The Passion and the Powerless


The Passion and the Powerless

A report called "Perceptions of Teachers" by Professors Kane and Mallon of Massey University is a must-read. It includes 32 ideas for improving perceptions of teaching, and most of them make sense. There's nothing new about the professors' conclusion that "the overwhelming message is that the workload of teachers is high and their self image is low". But the report also describes the passion and the professionalism that keeps them doing a hard job well.

And the report shows that teachers are hard on other teachers. "There was reasonably widespread concern reported by teachers and others, that some colleagues within their ranks are lazy, incompetent and disinterested and there is little evidence that current appraisal systems could adequately deal with poor performance" (page ix).

I'm puzzled by the negativity. Teachers have had the Government they wanted, the funding system they fought for, the pay rises they deserved, and the policy role they have craved for. I would have expected an improvement on past complaints but it's not evident. What should the public make of this ?

What NZQA Should Do Next for NCEA

Karen Poutasi should hire or contract some assessment experts who can apply to NCEA the tools used by every other jurisdiction to measure the validity and reliability of NCEA assessments. Assessment is difficult and trade-offs have to be made. But students deserve a fair deal. Standards-based assessment and norm-referenced assessment are equally vulnerable to the problem of setting exams that achieve consistency, and fairly reflect the ability of a students. NZQA need to establish an evidence base on the reliability and validity of NCEA. In the absence of evidence, prejudice and politics will prevail.

The Evidence So Far

Steve Maharey told Parliament that he knows NCEA is fair because John Hattie agrees that some people, including him and the Minister, had a conversation about NCEA during a meeting of a Scholarship advisory group and there was agreement that NCEA results were better this year than last year. I'm not joking. Professor Warwick Elley has shown that in 2005, exam results in 40 of 140 standards in 10 mainstream subjects, fall outside NZQA's own benchmark for fairness, and more than half of these standards fall outside a benchmark for all other sorts of achievement testing. Who do you believe?

Why Don't You Tell Them to Do It?

If criticism raises your blood pressure, don't read any further. I am baffled by the passivity and lack of intellectual curiosity of education leaders over this issue. People of integrity with strong views and leadership experience seem to be paralysed by NZQA and ministerial waffle focused on political spin and social democratic solidarity. No one has asked for an objective assessment of reliability and validity of NCEA exams. Don't they want to know more than Steve Maharey's opinion about whether their students are getting a fair go?

The education establishment is guilty of culpable ignorance - they don't want to ask the question in case the answer isn't right. The path to truth is littered with difficult questions (English, 2006). NZQA have no evidence to back their assertions that NCEA exams are fair. Worse than that, they regard the question as ridiculous and so does the Minister. Unable to produce analysis or evidence, Karen Sewell told the select committee that parents and teachers "can have confidence" that it all works. Well, I am a parent and I want evidence that NCEA exams are fair to students, not more mindless religious belief.

Ends

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