Wednesday, February 24, 2010

National Standards: What’s really going on?

I hadn’t yet formed my opinion on the contentious issue that is the National Standards when I saw that the NZEI bus was visiting my daughter’s school on this week. “Brilliant!” I thought, “I can find out what all the hubbub is about.” I got there 25 minutes after the bus’ advertised arrival time…and it was gone. Obviously the NZEI was prepared to spend a whole twenty minutes informing the parents of our school about their position on the National Standards.

So I sat around waiting for the bell to ring, searching for new applications on my i-phone. At three the five year old came running out and proudly showed me a sticker on her chest. Now this was not unusual as stickers are pretty good currency for a five year old, however this sticker was a little different.

“Trial National Standards, not our kids”

“Hmmm”, I thought, “what’s really going on?”

I showed my daughter the appropriate excitement regarding the sticker….and for a five year old the political agenda behind the sticker and the wording of the sticker mean nothing. It was simply a sticker, and we celebrated together the adhesive-backed paper that brought her so much joy.

As we drove home I asked the usual question, “what was the best part of school today Shorty?” I was surprised to hear about the “visiting teachers” and the “photo in the senior school” which is where the NZEI bus happened to have been parked.

“Hmmm”, I thought, “what’s really going on?”

On arriving home I asked my wife what she thought about the sticker. She gave me a look and said “let’s talk about it later”. Then she reminded me I had forgotten to pick up the meat, so I headed out again.

While driving I gave the school a call. I spoke to the head of the Junior School and explained that I wasn’t making a complaint, but simply enquiring about the sticker. I told her I had no position on the National Standards as I was not informed enough. The head of the Junior School was surprised that the NZEI had interacted with the children and she knew nothing of the stickers or the photo. She promised me she’d follow it up and invited me to come in for a chat with her the next day about the National Standards. One-on-one teaching on my weakest subject, National Standards.

I accepted her offer and the next day went in to see her. Firstly she apologised for the ‘sticker and bus photo’ debacle. The photos that had been uploaded to the NZEI website had since been removed. She then proceeded to answer my question: “What’s the problem with National Standards?” In short, I was won over by the concerns she voiced.

When the National Standards are rolled-out there will be four ways to grade our children. The new grading system is based around the term ‘average’ (some people are still using the term ‘expectation’, but it would appear that average is now term du jour). The four grades are …
+ above average
+ average
+ below average
+ well below average

So if your child is in need of remedial help (much like myself with National Standards) they will be labeled ‘Well below average’, and according to the National Standards, the child will know this. Alternatively, if you have the top seven year old in the country they will be graded ‘Above average’. There is no room for children with learning disabilities and if you have a dyslexic child then you should be prepared to explain why they are ‘well below average’ right through their primary school life.

These grades will be given to children after six months at school, at the end of year one and then subsequently every year right up to year eight.

The Junior Literacy programme in our schools is a three year programme. At the end of year three, children are expected to be at a certain level. Some children come into school without the ability to identify letters, and some come in already reading. At the end of three years they are all expected to be at that particular level…or beyond. Some of the ‘late starters’ in reading who may not catch up until they are in year three will now get several reports identifying them as either ‘below average’, or ‘well below average’, where the truth is that they simply might not yet have the skills or the desire to read. The school my daughter attends has a 92% success rate for getting kids to that point at the end of year three, but I shudder to think how many children would have been labeled ‘well below average’ after six months and then have the grade become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One area of concern to teachers is the workload. They are already testing and they know the level of every child in their classroom. They also know where each child is compared to where they should be. However teachers will now be expected to do a second round of testing to fulfill the criteria of National Standards. Fine you say, just drop the old tests…but that’s not allowed. The National Standards require independent testing on top of what is already happening. Teachers are being asked to re-test children to get information they already have and know.

The other area of concern is that contrary to the title of the system, this is not Nationalised. In my day, doing School C, we all sat down across the country to the same exam. With National Standards the actual tests will be different from school to school.

This means two things…
+ Firstly when comparing children and/or a school you are not comparing apples with apples.
+ Secondly if you get a rogue Principal who wants the school to perform better than maybe the students have the ability to do, they could instruct teachers to ‘teach to the test’, or just make the tests easier.

The National Standards have been trialed nowhere. They are an un-tested theory being put into our schools against the wishes and better judgement of many educators and parents in the country.

What many teachers and the NZEI are asking for is not to scrap National Standards, but to trial them. Basically, NZEI is calling for the theory of the National Standards, to be applied to the National Standards. I find that a reasonable request, and I am quite happy to support NZEI in it. But I don’t want my child used as their billboard. They don’t need her; their argument is strong enough and sound enough as it is.


  1. Great, Pat. Thank you for this clear explanation. As a retired teacher I suspected this is what it is about. Now you have confirmed the worst. It seems schools are not allowed to be about education. Rather they have to train the child to reach the standards.

  2. Thank you for the information. Thank you for the acknowledgement via email concerning the trial of the National Standards.

    As for the email that I send you yesterday which regarding our opposition leader Hon Phil Goff asking me to circularise our PM Hon John Key breaking his election promise on raising GST. I thought if John are the one who controlling this unemployment. And aiming to train senior or multitasking labour for our nation. He would have keep his election promise.

    Unfortunately, he is losing control of the situation. It shown that he is uncompetency for the top job. He is certainly losing the fate of his own people. And as for being a labour party member. And as if Phil have send me a personal email to address this issue. Therefore, I have follow my party leader and forward the email to my dearest friends and family.

    I am not a billboard of any kind. I am only trying to address the current situation of our National Party facing after the financial tsunami. Thank you for your concern.

    Enclosed below is a meeting organised by the Green Party:

    Hands Up for Learning!: Public Meetings on the Govt’s ‘National Standards’

    Why should parents be concerned? With leading educationalist Professor Martin Thrupp.
    - Weds 24 Feb, 7pm: Kelston Community Centre, Cnr Great North Rd & Awaroa Ave, Kelston-7pm
    - Weds 3 Mar, 7pm: Otahuhu Town Hall, 10 High St, Otahuhu
    - Weds 10 Mar, 7pm: Royal Oak Intermediate Hall, 74 Symonds St, Royal Oak
    These meetings are open to teachers, principals, Board of Trustees, parents & other interested members of the community. For additional info please call Tony Dunn Ph: 3606213 or email: