The latest Listener and educationalist Kelvin Smythe have highlighted an interesting phenomena with two of our widely used assessment systems. Children who have been identified by experienced teachers as struggling writers are now getting results above expectations in STAR and e-ASSTle assessments. While schools and teachers should welcome such good results in an atmosphere of competition, as professionals they create some discomfort when our broader assessments and judgments say the results should be otherwise.
There are a lot of conspiracy theories suggesting Government influence to boost scores so that their education changes appear to be producing positive results. There are also suggestions that they are developing an online national assessment system (PaCT) that will allow the simplification and centralisation of assessment data. Synchronising the three assessments would make logical sense but the process to do this appears artificial and political rather than being based on research and evidence. There is also the concern that it may mean the development of a national testing regime that will have disastrous consequences on teaching and learning.
NZCER operates independently from the Government and when they were contacted they denied any collusion with the Government over the changes to the STAR assessment system, but they did admit that they hadn't communicated them well with teachers.
It is concerning when all evidence in schools is actually pointing to declining achievement with many low decile children (mainly due to growing levels of poverty than poor teaching), that testing will now show the opposite . This will only support the Government's agenda and send us even more on a damaging trajectory. The Government is determined that it can cut funding and support from the sector and improve outcomes by just demanding that teachers should work harder.
ERO's latest review of Mathematics teaching and achievement for years 4-8 reveals many teachers are struggling with teaching those with higher needs. This was identified by principals in Invercargill some time ago and resource teachers were employed at a local level to provided support and guidance for teachers. While similar resources are provided nationally for literacy it is not so for Mathematics.What this Government doesn't realise is that you can't bully teachers to perform, if skills and knowledge are lacking it is professional support that is needed. Teachers are not motivated by competition or threats, they genuinely want to do the right thing for their children and if support is provided they will take it on board.
In Cathy Wylie's recent book, Vital Connections, Why we need more than self managed schools, she refers to Treasury's 1980s briefing papers that informed Tomorrow's Schools:
"Fundamental to this analysis was the premise that human behaviour is primarily self-interested. Government institutions and the relations between them therefore had to be designed to appeal to self-interest, offering decision-making freedom, but also to guard against it, through the separation of roles and the casting of relations as contracts with with specified measures of performance. 'Provider capture' was the term used to suggest that officials' and professionals' knowledge about the development of policy and delivery of services was warped by such self interest."
Luckily this flawed perception of how educators operate was softened somewhat through the development of the Picot Report but we are seeing a shift back to this thinking under this National led Government. According to them teachers and their unions are only motivated through self interest, so collaboration is impossible and consultation will only complicate the implementation of their agenda.
Despite Rodney Hide's claim that education unions are the maddest and baddest of all, it couldn't be further from the truth. Primary teachers and support staff rarely take industrial action and concern for their children and communities generally come before self interest and it was because of this attitude that the planned strike action in Christchurch didn't happen. When teachers and schools had time to consider their decision to strike made the previous year they decided that they would rather be supporting their communities after Parata's announcement than inconveniencing them through industrial action.
The after-school rally that was organised as an alternative, however, was well supported and demonstrated the strong feelings against the Government and its Education Minister. Although some schools were spared by Parata, poor process continues. Many of the schools that were previously flagged for closure were told that there would be a process over three years but in the final announcement this promise has been forgotten and all closures will take effect at the end of this year. This is an intolerably short time and a cruel about turn for those schools and families that had worked around the Minister's assurances.
What we have learned over the past four years of this National led Government deliberately uses lies, misinformation and bullying to get their way and Christchurch is experiencing all of these. To use Rodney Hide's words, when it comes to education, this Government is the maddest and baddest of all!
Around 1000 people marched to the Christchurch Ministry of Education Offices to deliver a vote of no confidence in Minister Parata.