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Auckland Region Assessment Seminar

Hon Trevor Mallard
Auckland Region Assessment Seminar


I am pleased to be here today to wish you well in the important business you are undertaking.

It is particularly pleasing that this series of seminars is underpinned by collaborative relationships. Look at all the logos on the registration brochure Ministry of Education, NZEI, University of Canterbury. And the leading speakers from NEMP, and NZCER. It is also good to see the range of people here to learn, many of you in your professional development time.

The Government’s assessment strategy is set in the wider context of the Closing the Gaps strategy and the revised National Administration Guidelines. Good quality assessment information is essential to both.

The government is very serious about closing the gaps and closing them before yet another generation of kids are losers.

I want to assure you that I fully understand that education is not on its own in dealing with the gaps. Teachers are not going to be expected to close the gaps on their own. We have work to do in housing. There are many cases where two or three families are sharing one house. The children in those families do not have much chance to read with their Mum, discuss the TV news or get an uninterrupted night's sleep, let alone search the world wide web for information to go in their project on e-commerce.

Health too is an area where we are working to close gaps in access and opportunity. Too many kids don't learn because they can't hear properly.

However we must not lose sight of the importance of teachers. Teaching and learning within the classroom matter. The individual teacher is far more important in school development than has been reflected in recent research priorities. Some early statistics from a literature review that the Ministry has been doing indicate that teachers contribute about 40 percent of the variance in achievement outcomes: other school factors contribute about 16 percent. This is because it is the teachers who shape the classroom culture and students are active participants in classroom dynamics.

So changing the system, implementing the big macro level policies is wasted if the quality of teaching is not addressed. Whatever we do fiscally, with governance and management, curriculum and assessment we must never forget that what happens in schools and in classrooms will be strongly influenced by how well teachers understand the purposes, how good the resources provided are; and how supportive of teachers the school's systems are. Teachers are the key to meeting our education goals.

High quality professional development for teachers is an essential component of this government's vision for New Zealand education. The programmes we are developing for schools to play their part in strategies to close the gaps will need teachers with skills to match. This seminar is an example of the kind of training that will make it possible for national initiatives to go ahead.

A national coordinated programme of professional development is important in achieving national changes.

Feedback from the first of the secondary NCEA professional development days has been encouraging. I have heard similar positive comments about the Christchurch and Palmerston North regional assessment seminars like this one. Both sets of training in assessment have successfully brought teachers together and opened up dialogue.

A skilled facilitator or adviser and leading teachers working together with the same goals over an extended period is bound to be more successful than the one off, one day, scatter gun approach we have had to resort to in recent years.

The Ministry of Education is working on a plan for a nationally coordinated inservice training, advisory and support network.

All of our national assessment systems are being fixed up. It is good that the old dinosaur school cert is on the way out. I am looking forward to a much fairer and more responsive senior school qualifications system. And I am looking forward to the opportunities for improvement high quality assessment of primary school children's achievements will give us. In the past we haven't known for sure that some children were missing out until they wanted a qualification for the world of work. It was a bit late then.

National assessment cannot take off and make the difference we all want unless we have teachers all over he country using the systems and using them knowledgably and enthusiastically.

Assessment information used well promotes high quality learning. It provides us all with information needed to raise the achievement of individual students and groups of students who are currently not achieving as well as they should.

Good national assessment tools well used play a big part in our Close the Gaps initiatives. We need to know where there are gaps, we need to know exactly how wide the gaps are, and we need to know whether what we are doing to close the gaps is working. We will be able to do that when each school can analyse its own nationally comparable data.

With your own class you must often wonder whether the progress the children are making is enough. I know that in some low decile schools the children are making steady progress every year. But sometimes in spite of this progress they are falling further and further behind the children in the higher decile areas across the motorway. Progress is being made sure enough, it is just too little or too slow.

There is a clear need to set goals that are specific and challenging at classroom, school and system level. We can't just say "we do our best” and leave it at that. Assessment information will tell us where we are at present. We can use it to diagnose causes of learning difficulties or to make sure new programmes match prior achievement.
I am also concerned about teachers' workloads.

There is a range of factors contributing to this and I don't want this assessment initiative to become another pressure on teachers and children.

Teachers have always undertaken a considerable amount of recording of student performance. The processes have been time consuming and quite often not much use to teachers and parents. The good tools, the exemplars and the knowledge of how to analyse assessment information have just not been available.

The Government has a range of assessment initiatives underway to provide teachers with the resources they need. The work includes the creation of exemplars of the work of students from Years 1-10, more literacy and numeracy assessment tools, and professional development so teachers can make better use of assessment information.

The University of Auckland has begun to develop new tools for use in the assessment of literacy and numeracy for pupils in years 5, 6 and 7. Some of you may have been involved in the recent workshops held to write literacy items.

Schools will be supplied with these tools in the form of a bank of test items on a CD ROM, and this will allow you to put together tests to suit your own needs at any time during the year. This will make it easy for schools to mark and analyse the information to identify students’ strengths and learning needs, so that you can develop appropriate teaching programmes.

In time, this will be even easier with online assessment and diagnosis.

This government’s policy for the assessment of students is based on the use of information that will improve teaching and learning, and not on ranking schools. These new tools are firmly sited in this policy.

I wish you all well in your development of skills in assessment. This is an important seminar. I hope that whoever you are; teacher, principal, professional development provider or policy adviser you will be keen about the use of assessment information at classroom, school, and system levels to make a difference. And in particular to use that assessment to make a difference for those students who are not currently achieving as well as they should be.

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