No room for complacency

December 4th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Kiwi students are falling behind the rest of the world in reading, maths and science, a global education report has revealed.

New Zealand’s education ranking has fallen from seventh to 18th in science, from 12th to 23rd in maths, and from seventh to 13th in reading, according to a report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last night.

Just over 4000 15-year-old Kiwi students took part in the assessment, which is done every three years.

Opposition MPs say students are falling behind because teachers are too busy filling in government forms to concentrate on teaching.

But Education Minister Hekia Parata pointed the finger at issues to which the study group has been exposed, including the bedding-in of a new curriculum, under-investment in teachers, and a poor culture of behaviour in some schools.

“This Government is addressing all of these long-standing issues,” she said.

The students measured by the report were in the education system from 2001 to 2012, which meant they had never been caught by the national standards system, Parata said.

This should be a wake up call for those who resist change in the education system. Stagnation and decline is not acceptable. If you talk to secondary teachers, you’ll know that it is too late for them to do much with a student if they get to secondary school with inadequate literacy and numeracy schools.

We’ve had the bigotry of low expectations for too long, where the 15% tail are allowed to fail. Not everyone will be able to get good qualifications, but everyone must leave school with functional literacy and numeracy.

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Hosking on National Standards

September 9th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Mike Hosking writes:

National standards in my personal experience has been an exceedingly simple exercise which has involved the teachers of my kids either in an interview situation or through a number of school reports pointing out what’s been achieved in any given subject, where my kid sits within that achievement and where that achievement sits within the national standards criteria. I know where they are currently and where they are supposed to be by the end of the year. It has come in the form of shaded charts or graphs and it’s come in the form of numbers.

The only tricky part was when I initially saw them, I double guessed myself by thinking it can’t be this easy, I am sure I am reading something wrong here because all I’d heard was this was a mess, schools didn’t know what they were doing, schools didn’t like it, and it was impossible to collate the information. So I was ready for some whiteboard PowerPoint presentation that would leave me emotionally exhausted and mentally drained at its complexity, when in reality it turned out to be nothing of the sort.

Here’s the simple truth. Parents want and like to know where there kid is at. They like knowing something more specific than ‘they’re doing fine’ or ‘they’re settling in nicely’. National standards places them. It places them ahead, on or behind others around the country. And when you know that, you start to work out how much of that performance or lack of it is the child’s, is the teacher’s, or is the school’s. In other words, you know what’s what.

To be worried about that as those who have spent so much time scaring the bejesus out of us clearly are requires a mindset and view of the world I have trouble getting my head around.

Knowledge is power, neither is a bad thing.

I know many parents who have said much the same. They were frustrated that the reports they used to get were fairly vague on how their kids were doing. They love National Standards as it has allowed them greater knowledge of how their kids are doing in the three core areas, and allows them to work out if they need to be doing more.

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Hard data for education

July 14th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

New Zealand’s education system has been treading water and its students will lose out in the global race for the best jobs unless change is embraced, a visiting expert warns.

Andreas Schleicher has been dubbed “the world’s schoolmaster” by international media – and he advises a shake-up of New Zealand’s system.

The German scientist and statistician is a pioneer of using hard data to analyse what was traditionally thought of as a “soft” subject, previously dominated by tradition, theories and ideology.

The change in approach helped him become one of the world’s most influential education experts.

It’s depressing that some parties and unions spend so much energy fighting against the Government and parents having some standard data. There is huge power in data. Even more depressing that they are now boycotting a tool that will help improve moderation and consistency.

A parent questionnaire which ran with the PISA test was used to see what factors were most important in terms of test results.

It found that parents showing a consistent interest in a child’s education is the most important factor in raising his or her achievement.

“It is not the hours of homework that you spend with your children, it is not about the degree that you have,” Mr Schleicher says. “It is simple things – when parents ask them every day at the dinner table, ‘How was school? What went well? Did you have any difficulties?”‘

Good advice.

New Zealand must deploy its best teachers to the most challenging classrooms, Mr Schleicher says. Data clearly show the highest performing countries prioritise and target the quality of teaching.

Overseas examples include Shanghai, which topped the 2009 results, where vice-principals at successful schools can only become principals if they show they can turn around one of the lowest-performing schools.

What a great idea.

Mr Schleicher supports National Standards data as a way for educators to identify success and failure.

The standards are descriptions of what students should be able to do in reading, writing and mathematics as they progress through levels 1 to 8, the primary and intermediate years.

Their introduction has been controversial, with opponents saying they will lead to “league tables” of schools, and give parents the false impression that a school can be judged by its results alone. “I can see the challenges,” Mr Schleicher says.

“But in the dark all schools look the same, and all students look the same.

“Unless you have some light to illuminate the differences, there is very little you can do about it.”

Absolutely. Some data is better than no data.

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So selfish

June 24th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Jody O’Callaghan at Stuff reports:

Meanwhile, teacher unions have launched a campaign to boycott the trial of a computerised national standards assessment tool.

This is a tool designed to mitigate the very issue that some critics of national standards have complained about – inconsistent moderation. A computerised tool to guide teachers (not force, it just suggests where a student is at) seems like a no brainer.

It could be used to introduce performance pay that could see teachers paid according to their pupils’ achievement levels.

So this is what is really motivating them? They will boycott a tool that will improve assessment of pupils, purely because it could be used one day to introduce performance pay.

Is that not the most selfish thing you’ve seen?

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Dom Post on National Standards

June 20th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The time has come for teacher unions to accept that national standards in reading, writing and mathematics are here to stay.

Parents clearly want plain-English reports about how their children are progressing in the three most important building blocks for a sound education, and the policy has been overwhelmingly endorsed at the last two elections.

It is therefore in teachers’ interests to work with the Ministry of Education to ensure a sound system of assessment and data collection. Sadly, the signs this week are that teacher unions and representatives will continue cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

One of the strongest arguments teachers have advanced against the standards is that there is a lack of consistency in the way they are applied and insufficient moderation at a national level. It is therefore difficult to judge, on the raw data, how well one school, or even pupils within the same school but with different teachers, are performing compared to others.

That is a valid concern, and one that the ministry has always acknowledged would need to be addressed as national standards were bedded in. Its solution is an online tool designed to assist teachers to make more reliable and consistent assessments, thereby giving more confidence in the integrity of results. Known as the Progress and Consistency Tool, or PaCT, it is being trialled this year and will be compulsory from 2015.

Given the fears teachers hold about the inconsistency of national standards results and the lack of moderation, the public could be forgiven for thinking they would fully support the introduction of the tool. Instead, the primary teachers union NZEI, the Principals’ Federation, the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools and the Catholic Principals’ Association have called on school boards and teachers to boycott PaCT.

It’s the solution to the very thing they have been complaining about – and their response is to boycott it. It’s appalling.

They say because the system requires them to judge national standards by working through tick boxes of achievements to generate a result, it will undermine their professionalism and reduce quality teaching.

The claims are ridiculous. Ensuring consistent assessment in reading, writing and mathematics across schools will have no impact on how individual teachers seek to inspire, guide and educate their charges. All it will mean is that when an 8-year-old boy at a decile 1 Auckland school and an 8-year-old girl at a decile 10 Wellington school are assessed as being above the standard for reading, there is a much greater degree of confidence that the results are accurate.

If I was a primary school teacher I’d be embarrassed by having a union that is so hostile to consistent assessment.

Maybe the Government should play the same game as the NZEI, and remove it from every working group on educational policy in the country? They’ll get to represent their members on pay negotiations, but why should they be treated as a professional body on other issues when they so clearly are not?

If teachers fear the information being released is inaccurate, then the answer is to work with the Government to make sure the system in place is as robust, reliable and fair as possible

Most teachers are doing that. But the union activists are doing everything possible to stop this.

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Improve data, not scrap it

June 18th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The opponents of national standards seem to have abandoned their stance that parents shouldn’t know if their kids are at the standard expected for their age. Instead they now argue that the Government shouldn’t collect any national standards data because moderation and assessment is not 100% consistent.

Now I’m sure it isn’t 100% consistent. But frankly I’m appalled that their response is to say scrap national standards than improve the data. It’s ideological madness. Think if their secondary counterparts were as bad, as NZEI seem to be. Considering every secondary student undertaking NCEA is largely internally assessed with significant variability between schools, you don’t hear the PPTA calling for NCEA to be scrapped and no data kept on NCEA pass marks for schools.

So next time an  anti national standards zealot goes on about the data being imperfect, ask them what they are doing to improve it, rather than scrap it.

But we see today that they really have no interest in anything that might make the data more consistent. The Herald reported:

The NZ Principals’ Federation, the Educational Institute, the NZ Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools and the Catholic Principals Association have called on school boards, colleagues and the organisations developing the ‘Progress and Consistency Tool’ (PaCT) to stop their involvement, including a trial this year.

So they are saying they won’t even trial a tool that would lead to more consistent data!

They say PaCT amounts to a national test and are concerned about how the data will be used.

That’s ridiculous. A national test is where all kids sit the same test. This is nothing at all like that.

The Ministry of Education has said it will make National Standards data more reliable.

Which is what they claim they want? This exposes that in reality they want no data on their performance.

The tool asks teachers to judge students’ National Standards levels by working through tick-boxes of illustrations representative of achievement outcomes.

The PaCT tool then generates a result for each student.

So how is that a national test?

“This narrow tool will take over teacher judgements and do it for them.”

No, it is a tool to guide the teacher so assessments are more consistent – the EXACT thing they have been claiming is wrong with national standards.

NZEI president Judith Nowotarski said the tool would undermine teacher professionalism, reduce teaching quality for students and cement a reliance on data from National Standards.

“It also opens the floodgates for other initiatives like competitive performance pay for teachers. There is no research evidence to show that when teachers receive performance pay it helps students learn better.”

Good God, their paranoia on performance pay means they will try and sabotage anything that allows an assessment of schools and teachers that are doing well.

A spokesman for the ministry said National Standards were not a national test.

“PaCT is an online, web-based tool which is being designed to help teachers make consistent judgments against the National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics. The tool will support teachers to make overall judgments about a student’s achievement and track progress over time.”

He said an advisory group had been set up to get teachers’ input into its design.

“The feedback received has helped its design and development.”

He said the tool included a framework for describing the steps that students typically take as they develop expertise in reading, writing and mathematics across the curriculum.

” Teachers’ judgments are key to judging a student’s progress and achievement and in PaCT the final decision is made by the teacher.”

So they claim there is not enough consistency with national standards, and when a nifty online tool is developed to help increase consistency – they boycott it on the grounds they don’t want comparable data in case it is used in the future in a way they don’t approve of.

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So what is Labour’s policy on national standards?

June 12th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

David Shearer on Q+A last year:

Labour Party leader David Shearer says a Labour government would not cancel National Standards in schools, as it rolls out a Reading Recovery programme.

Yesterday Chris Hipkins in the NZ Herald:

A change of government next election would see National Standards scrapped.

Labour’s education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the Labour Party would scrap National Standards in their current form.

Once again trying to be all things to all people.

So who is right? Shearer or Hipkins?

My guess is Grant will back Hipkins, so we should treat his word as authoritative and assume Labour will scrap National Standards, despite Shearer pledging they will keep them.

How depressing that the major aim of the Labour Party is to deny parents and the Government straight-forward information on how their children are doing, and schools are doing.

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Herald on National Standards

June 12th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

You would think everyone involved with education would be gladdened by the second year of national standards results for primary and intermediate schools released yesterday. They show a slight improvement in all three essential subjects: reading, writing and mathematics.

But …

You would think everyone in education would find the results useful, particularly as they have not been presented in a way that permits ready comparisons of different schools, which was the concern of many educationists when national standards were first mooted. But two years on, leading figures in the field still seem determined to discredit them.

Of course.

The public has grown tired of criticism of the Government’s efforts to do what the profession should have done long ago.

Professor Thrupp leads a project called “Rains”, an apt acronym perhaps, that stands for research, analysis and insight into national standards. Six schools have been studied and they showed, he says, “extreme variability in processes underlying national standards judgments. For instance, schools are on different trajectories around the national standards related to their diverse contexts and past practices …”

That is the jargon of minds looking for problems where none need exist.

Teachers and schools will never be perfectly consistent in their testing and marking but with professional guidance they can be consistent enough to provide their pupils and the paymasters with useful measures of the education system’s performance. That is what the Government was seeking. Now, with two years of figures to compare, the minister can begin to act on the results.

Exactly. The reason we have national standards is simply to allow the Government to identify areas and schools where achievement is not at the level it should be, and provide greater assistance to those schools.

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National Standards data

June 11th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Hekia Parata has released:

The 2012 national aggregate data shows:

  • Reported achievement against the National Standard for reading increased by 1.2 per cent from 76.2 per cent in 2011 to 77.4 per cent in 2012.
  • Reported achievement against the National Standard for mathematics increased by 1.4 per cent from 72.2 per cent in 2011 to 73.6 per cent in 2012.
  • Reported achievement against the National Standard for writing increased by 2 per cent from 68 per cent in 2011 to 70 per cent in 2012.

For some reasons Labour, Greens and the teacher unions spent years fighting against the Government being able to know how students are doing against a national standard! Good to see some modest improvements. Well done the teachers and schools (and parents and pupils) who have contributed to that.

Pasifika children showed the greatest increase on last year, improving by around 3 per cent in all three standards.

So what is the data:

Reading

  • All 77.4% (+1.2%)
  • Boys 73.2% (+1.2%)
  • Girls 81.9% (+1.4%)
  • Maori 68.2% (+1.7%)
  • Pasifika 62.6% (+3.6%)

Writing

  • All 70.0% (+2.0%)
  • Boys 62.6% (+1.4%)
  • Girls 77.8% (+2.8%)
  • Maori 60.2% (+2.7%)
  • Pasifika 56.6% (+3.0%)

Maths

  • All 73.6% (+1.4%)
  • Boys 73.0% (+1.1%)
  • Girls 74.1% (+1.4%)
  • Maori 63.6% (+1.1%)
  • Pasifika 56.8% (+3.0%)

While the improvements are good, the numbers for those not at the national standard is too high. You’ll never be 100%, but we should be aiming that those at the national standard are at 85% to 90% in all demographics.

The poorer performance of boys is a major concern. I note that even in a subject area where boys are traditionally seen as stronger, they lag even in maths now.

Some more detailed info here.

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Why we need education reform also

March 23rd, 2013 at 9:27 am by David Farrar

Narelle Henson at Stuff reports:

Frustrated bosses say they can’t find suitable workers for even the most basic of labouring jobs despite the high unemployment rate, as they deal with people who turn up drunk if they come to work at all. …

But despite the many jobless, employers say continual absenteeism, substance abuse and poor work ethic appear to be making a lot of them unemployable.

Dave Connell, vice-president of the New Zealand Contractors Federation and managing director of Connell Construction, who is juggling operations in the Waikato and for the Christchurch rebuild, said 100 people responded to a Trade Me job advertisement for a junior construction role, but not one was suitable to hire.

“We are letting seven people go for every one we keep,” he said.

“I have had some people last half a day and walk off the job with $800 worth of [work] gear on them; one guy had six sick days in two weeks, and we have had issues with physicality too.”

Mr Connell said he was desperate to fill positions, but could not find anyone with the right attitude.

It will take many years to fix these problems.

The first is we need to stop people leaving school with inadequate literacy and numeracy skills.

The second is we need to install a work ethic in people from their teenage years. That is why I don’t support a minimum wage for under 18s, and why I support welfare reform.

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More good analysis

September 29th, 2012 at 8:27 am by David Farrar

Eric Crampton has also been analysing the national standards data. he finds:

Decile matters greatly. All else equal, a school one decile higher has about a four percentage point increase in pass rates. But, decile matters at a decreasing rate: moving from Decile 2 to Decile 3 correlates with a 3.3 percentage point increase in maths pass rates while moving from Decile 8 to Decile 9 only improves pass rates by one percentage point.

Class size matters: schools with more students per teacher have higher pass rates. I suspect reverse causation here: for a fixed budget, those schools that are able to run larger classes are likely those that have fewer discipline problems and so are able to put those resources to other uses.

Ethnicity matters. A standard deviation increase in the proportion of Maori students reduces aggregate pass rates by 1.3 percentage points in reading and 2.2 percentage points in math. Similar trends exist for Pacific Island student ratios. I’d be pretty cautious in interpreting this one: if you run things decile-by-decile, the effects mostly disappear. The biggest negative effect seems to hold in high decile schools, but by the time you get to Decile 10 schools, the median school has only 5.9% Maori students. Results then may be a bit sensitive to a few outliers on the right hand side. Like Luis, I’ll refrain from doing much more until the official results come out.

Single sex schools seem to do well; boarding schools seem to do poorly.

All interesting data.

There are decile 1 schools providing pass rates twenty percentage points or more above what we’d expect, given their characteristics (that’s the 0.2 number on the y-axis); there is one decile ten school providing pass rates more than twenty percentage points below what we would expect given its characteristics. Differences in school performance simply do not come down only to decile. Decile’s the most important thing. But differences in performance among schools of the same decile by definition have to be about something other than decile. I can’t tell from this data whether it’s differences in stat-juking, differences in unobserved characteristics of entering students, differences in school pedagogy, or something else. But there’s something here that bears explaining. 

And this is the potential value. Identify the schools doing best and worst, and try to emulate them and help them respectively.

Somehow the left think this is a bad thing!

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Good data analysis

September 25th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Teacher unions fear assessment data being released because they worry about league tables published by media. And look I agree a league table which takes account of no control factors is not very helpful.

But what has excited me about the data being released, is what some real data experts can do with it (talking of data experts the Herald editorial moaned about “ A high priesthood of data analysis bemoans news media interest” which has caused me to label Keith Ng as Cardinal Keith!). An example is Luis Apiolaza at Quantum Forest. First he did the standard average proportion of students meeting the reading standard at each decile.

So you look at that, and think wow it is all about decile. But he then looks at the variance in each decile, not just the average.

The box shows the middle 50% for each decile, and the line in 1.5 times that interquartle range. What this shows is that the lower decile schools may have a lower average, they have much more variability. This is good, because it dispels some of the myth that all low decile schools have few students meet the national standard.

What I think this data may allow, is to then look at that huge variance in decile 1 to 3 schools, and identify the factors that have some schools higher than others. Eric Crampton has tweeted he has started some analysis and ethnicity is a big factor.

Of course this is all just a snapshot of data, and the lack of moderation means you take care with it (but does not make the data useless by any means). Th real value will be over time, as we get trend information.

I suspect there is going to be lot of sites doing their own analysis of the data.

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Public support for data release

September 25th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The majority of people polled think schools should publicly release their national standards performance data.

Results from a Herald-Digipoll survey showed 60.3 per cent of people agreed that schools should be forced to release the information.

The survey showed that people aged 18-39 years old were overwhelmingly supportive of the idea, with 70.4 per cent wanting data released.

While the last time I looked Labour’s policy was to amend the Official Information Act so educational data is suppressed and not made publicly accessible.

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Class sizes

September 23rd, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald on Sunday reports:

Primary schools have disclosed controversial data about pupil achievement, with the surprise revelation that children in bigger classes and bigger schools get better grades.

The Herald on Sunday has conducted a comprehensive survey of schools’ national standards results, before the Ministry of Education publishes them this week.

At schools with fewer pupils for each teacher, around 70 per cent of children are achieving national standards in reading, writing and arithmetic. But at schools with more pupils for each teacher – in effect, bigger classes – the pass rates rise to about 80 per cent.

What would be interesting is to have the results broken down by decile and size. As low decile schools get more funding, they may have a smaller class size. That is only if they spend it on more teachers and not operational costs.

But regardless it backs my view that the impact of smaller class sizes is minimal, unless it is a massive difference. In other words a size of 15 will make a big difference compared to 30, but a class of 25 compared to a class of 27 will not.

It would have been nice of the HoS has told us their definitions of smaller and larger class sizes, so the calculation can be checked. There isn’t enough info in the story to verify it.

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Stuff publishes the National Standards data

September 22nd, 2012 at 12:28 pm by David Farrar

First the criticism by the NZEI:

So, what will National Standards league tables actually tell you?  Not much.  In fact, they will be very misleading if you are using them to judge school effectiveness.

They won’t tell you the level of improvement of children at a school, nor how engaged or happy individual children are, whether the school is meeting the individual children’s needs and whether the teachers are inspiring them.

Actually they will, eventually. Sure the first year is static data, but what I will find fascinating is the change over time. As for the other stuff, yes national standards data is only one piece of data. The answer is to supply more data, not less.

John Hartevelt who was the project manager for the project responds:

Many people told us not to publish the information you see on this site.

They fought to stop us. Some sent us bills for the privilege of their school’s data. Others buried the figures we asked for in complex matrices and pages of indecipherable bumph.

Well done on Fairfax for persevering.

Anyone who read the National Standards results as a proxy for quality would be quite foolish. We wouldn’t do that and we don’t suggest you do, either. For starters, they are not moderated, so one school’s “well below” may be another’s “at” or “above”. There is just no way of knowing – yet – exactly how the standards have been applied across schools.

But even if they were moderated, the standards alone could not tell you everything about how a school is doing by its pupils. As many of the experts we canvassed for this project have noted, quality is most evident in what a school does to push its pupils up, not in how well they do at attracting the brainiest, most-privileged kids in the first place.

Absolutely.

Our data handling processes have been checked by independent experts. Every school page includes decile, roll and funding statistics and a link to the school’s latest Education Review Office report. We have reported in detail across the country on a range of schools to help show that there is more to any of them than the numbers you see on this site. And we have commissioned a range of views on National Standards to debate the issue in their own words.

The link to the ERO reports is useful.

My old school is Island Bay School. I lived near St Francis De Sales and the local Intermediate was South Wellington.

Island Bay is decile 10 (which surprises me), St Francis decile 9 South Wellington decile 7. A comparison of the three is here. A very easy to comprehend format.

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National Standards Data

September 21st, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Hekia Parata has announced:

Education Minister Hekia Parata says National Standards data reported for the first time has set a baseline of Years 1-8 learner achievement.

The data shows that 76 per cent reached or exceeded the national standard for reading, 72 per cent of learners for mathematics, and 68 per cent for writing. 

“Of particular interest is the consistency of the achievement trends in writing, reading, mathematics by ethnicity and gender with other system ‘health check’ studies such as the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).

“So although we are only in the early stages it is exciting that this first set of data is consistent with other international and national information, and that a significant number of children are reaching or exceeding the National Standard in each of the three areas.

“I want to acknowledge and thank parents, teachers, principals, boards for all that they do that makes this possible.”

What this implies is that most schools are behaving responsibly and moderating consistently against the national standards. What will be great is we can now monitor over time what proportion of students are achieving the national standard for numeracy and literacy for their age.

The demographic breakdown for at or above the national standard for maths is:

  • Boys 72%
  • Girls 73%
  • Maori 63%
  • Pasifika 57%

For reading:

  • Boys 72%
  • Girls 80%
  • Maori 65%
  • Pasifika 58%

For writing:

  • Boys 61%
  • Girls 75%
  • Maori 58%
  • Pasifika 54%

The deficit between boys and girls when it comes to reading and writing remains concerning.

It would be interesting to have data on Asian students also.

That data on individual schools will be out next week. It will be interesting, but I won’t be reading too much into it. The trend information from schools is what I think will be more important. So long as the national standards do not get scrapped by a Labour/Green Government, we will very clearly see which schools are improving over time, and which ones are not.

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Is this the real agenda?

August 16th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Nanaia Mahuta blogged:

I asked a question in the House yesterday on the Government’s quest to embed National Standards based on ‘ropey’ data. I received criticism that Labour’s position on National Standards and League Tables was sounding fuzzy. A prod and a poke led to this post from that criticism.

Just so I am clear from the outset, Labour does not support National Standards and League Tables.

I asked in the comments:

Nanaia – you’ve said Labour does not support league tables. Does that mean Labour supports an amendment to the Official Information Act to prevent the public and media from being able to access school assessment data? Because unless you are not prepared to change the law, I’m not sure your opposition will have any impact.

Then Bill Courtney said:

First of all, a change to the Official Information Act could be one way of keeping the data from public view. This is what Finland does, as Finland has no form of national testing or school ranking lists. In fact, they have abolished the equivalent of ERO and school inspection systems simply do not exist. In simple terms, they don’t need them, as all their schools are excellent! But I doubt that any NZ government would be enlightened enough – unfortunately – to follow the Finnish model .

Now Courtney does not speak for Labour, but he is a prominent opponent of national standards, is often quoted by the education unions and recently a spokesperson for the John Minto led Quality Public Education Coaliton.

So it is good to realise what Courtney actually wants. Parents to have no information at all. No national standards, no NCEA data, no educational data, no ERO reports, no ER) – in fact no school inspections at all.

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Herald on school data

August 10th, 2012 at 2:05 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

According to Waikato University education professor Martin Thrupp, schools will use tricks to portray themselves in the best possible light in National Standards results that will be published next month. He is probably right. The opportunity for varnishing has been apparent since the Government decided late in the piece to allow schools to set their own goals and measure their pupils against them. That was a major mistake which has resulted in information from primary and intermediate schools that the Education Minister describes as “variable” and the Prime Minister as “ropey”. It is not, however, as Professor Thrupp believes, a reason to withhold the data.

Most parents want their children in schools where they have the best chance of achieving well. Whatever its flaws, the information to be provided on the Government’s Education Counts website will be keenly read and of some use. The site will not rank schools in league-table fashion, but will show achievement data in regions and how individual schools are performing against National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics in each region and nationally.

I’ve said this before – the answer to poor data, is better data – not some sort of totalitarian supression of public information.

Almost all data has flaws. GDP data is often revised in later quarters. Does that mean we should ban GDP data?

GDP is measured slightly differently by other countries. Should league tables of GDP growth be banned?

Opinion polls can have different methodologies. Should all polls be banned?

Unemployment data is based on a survey of 30,000 households and has a some quality issues with it. Let’s ban releasing unemployment data shall we?

NCEA results are not consistent data, due to internal assessment. Some say NCEA data should also be supressed by the state.

I’ve highlighted how some universities rort their PBRF data. But the answer to that was improving the PBRF data, not banning publication of the information.

Let us not treat parents as moronic simpletons who can not be trusted to make decisions about their children’s education. Parents, like all of us, will take the national standards data as one of many inputs into their decision.

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Ombudsman tells schools to release the data

August 8th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Schools have been told to disregard the advice of a primary teachers’ union and instead release controversial National Standards performance information.

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem has written to all schools after some brushed off requests for the data with a pro-forma response provided by the New Zealand Educational Institute.

Dame Beverley said the advice NZEI had offered “conflicted” with that provided by the New Zealand School Trustees Association.

“In my view boards of trustees are entitled to rely on the advice conveyed by the NZSTA. However, boards that rely on the advice conveyed by the NZEI risk an adverse finding being made against them by an Ombudsman under the [law],” she said.

Schools that had acted, or were considering acting, “in accordance with the NZEI advice” should reconsider, she said.

Those that continued to refuse or extend release of information would face an investigation, which “may find that a board has acted unreasonably or contrary to the law”.

Schools are publicly funded and must obey the law around public entities – simple.

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Wiggs on League Tables

July 20th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Lance Wiggs blogs:

A group of academics signed off on a letter against school league tables. The stated logic may work in an academic research setting but is inappropriate to apply to the real world. We should instead publish the measurements, improve the measurements and their context over time and, most importantly, focus energy and resources on understanding the issues and helping the schools at the bottom of the league.

Exactly. If data is not perfect, them people with a genuine interest in giving parents information and choice will focus on how to improve the data, not call for it to be suppressed.

Some of the more detailed responses:

The argument is that schools have high variability between each other and across years. It’s a combination of measurement error based on inconsistent and low samples and the national standards only measuring numeracy and literacy and not more holistic skills.

However to improve something we first need to measure it, and if we can’t measure it accurately then an approximation will do. In business that means using surveys of customers that have clear sampling bias, reacting more to customers who complain and even believing what we read in the papers. We know all of these sources are incomplete and have bias, but we can account for it somewhat, and are much improved by using the input. The online advertising industry is a lovely example, using a system for measurement that is clearly wrong to measure traffic, but while it is wrong, it is wrong for everyone, and it’s only the starting point for a conversation.

It’s far easier to start a conversation about the quality of a school when confronted with a combination of the socieoeconomic data about the catchment area and the National Standards results over time.

Exactly. Parents are not morons. Few are going to just look at a league table and say we’re going to decide solely on that. Information on how schools are doing with national standards will be just one of many inputs.

I understand the natural academic reluctance to never release data that is potentially wrong, and I see that in business sometimes where companies do not want to release an imperfect product. But while they are polishing the bezels yet again competitors are releasing their inferior but higher selling versions. Similarly we should release the data, and call on the power of academics, hundreds of thousands of parents and even students to provide both sunlight as a disinfectant and the right context.

The answer to bad data is good data, not suppressing all data.

While even a small minority, and this is not a small minority, wants access to our data, New Zealand has a policy and obligation to provide it. Arguing against releasing data is quite remarkable for a group of academics. It should be easier to understand school performance than to read about individual student’s private lives on Facebook.

Most academics support the Official Information Act as a wonderful thing. Educational academics seem to regard it as a bad thing.

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A schools database

February 2nd, 2012 at 9:50 am by David Farrar

John Hartevelt at Stuff reports:

The Government appears set on publishing primary school performance data, criticised by a teacher union as “junk information”.

Education Minister Hekia Parata yesterday said she would consider setting up a website similar to the MySchool resource that operates in Australia.

The Australian example “deals with a number of the concerns that have been rumoured” about the risks of league tables, Ms Parata said.

Comparisons between schools on MySchool were only between “statistically similar schools,” giving a fairer picture of performance.

“I think that parents vest a lot of trust in the principals and teachers of the education sector – and so they should – and that trust should be returned by letting parents know accurate information about what’s happening,” she said.

I think it is far better to have a database which allows parents to do “smart” comparisons, such as between schools with the same decile rankings, rather than just leave it to the media to compile their own tables.

The solution to bad data is good data – not banning the publication of data.

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A contrast of two schools

January 30th, 2012 at 5:30 pm by David Farrar

Dalefield School in Carterton has been one of the high profile schools agitating against National Standards. They have claimed:

Dalefield School principal Kevin Jephson said the standards would reward only those pupils “who arrive at school from extremely advantaged backgrounds such as inherited intelligence, emotional security, financial prospects and pro-active parenting”.

And in today’s Wairarapa News we read:

A Wairarapa school will come under special attention from the Ministry of Education after most of its students failed the National Standards benchmark last year.

But Dalefield School principal Kevin Jephson, who voluntarily went public about his school’s results, said the standards were invalid and inappropriate for his school.

Only 11 per cent of Dalefield’s students met the reading standard, 2 per cent the writing standard and 7 per cent the mathematics standard, he said.

One can understand why the principal has been so much against national standards.

Mr Jephson said the primary school sector had known all along the achievement components for National Standards were unrealistic for most primary schoolchildren.

Really? Well later on we read …

But Gail Marshall, principal of Solway Primary School in Masterton, said she had utmost faith in National Standards as a workable system.

The standards were trialled at Solway ahead of being rolled out nationwide.

The 2011 assessment at Solway found 91 per cent of Years 4 to 6 pupils met the reading standard, 87 per cent the writing standard and 82 per cent the mathematics standard.

“What I like about the standards is that it shows very clearly what the kids need, and we can target that. This year we’ll be concentrating on writing and maths and we can target toward that end.”

What an excellent attitude.

Now some of you might be wondering, like me, well Dalefield may be a decile 1 school and Solway a decile 10 school. So I checked.

Dalefield is decile 5 and Solway decile 6. Not a huge difference. Certainly not enough to explain why Solway is a magnitude higher in terms of the national standard.

Having said that, I would not rush to judge Dalefield. Maybe there is some genetic quirk that means all their pupils turned up to their school with inferior skills to those as Solway. Hence I would wait a year or two and see how each school does in lifting achievement over time.

If only 10% of first years at Dalefield can meet the national standard, yet by year six it is say 60%, then that is arguably a better result than a school where say 80% of first years are at the national standard, and they stay at 80% by year six.

The solution to concerns about bad comparisons or league tables, is to have good data easily accessible, such as in Australia. Let parents see how kids at a school do over time, let parents see how schools compare within the same decile etc.

But I think it is a good thing that parents of Dalefield students now know 90% of their kids are not at the national standard. It allows them to have a conversation with the school about how they plan to lift their improvement.

UPDATE: This is interesting. In comparing the two schools, Dalefield’s school roll is 16% Maori. Solway’s is 32% Maori. Solway is the one which has an 80% to 90% achievement rate, compared to under 10% for Dalefield. So that’s one excuse Dalefield can’t use.

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NZEI still trying to supress data

January 30th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Victoria Robinson at Stuff reports:

Schools might withhold student achievement statistics if the government does not prevent national standards information being used to create league tables, the New Zealand Education Institute says.

All schools must submit their student achievement data based on national standards to the Education Ministry by May 31.

But the NZEI said yesterday some schools might refuse to do so if the government did not prevent the information being used for league tables comparing each schools’ academic achievement.

The Government can not prevent media from seeking school assessment data and reporting it. It’s called living in a free society. The only way this could be prevented was to amend the Official Information Act to exclude school assessment data.

Anyway I have a solution for any school that refuses to submit their student achievement data. No parent should be forced to attend a school which won’t tell parents how well the school is doing, so I’d remove all zoning protection for any school that with-holds assessment data.

This would allow parents to vote with their feet. Any child at that school would automatically be guaranteed entrance into any neighbouring school, if the parents wish to have their children at a school that doesn’t suppress achievement data.

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Dom Post on charter schools

December 8th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Among those most depressed on election night were probably many teachers, their trade unions, and school principals.

I’m not so sure about “many” teachers. Most teachers don’t give a stuff about politics and just want to get on with teaching. It is the teacher politicians who devote most of their energy to educational politics that would have been depressed, but they are a minority of teachers.

The first John Key-led government made a priority of ensuring children can read and write – the foundation for all later learning – and parents getting school reports in plain English.

Known by its shorthand name, national standards, the policy was steadfastly adhered to by Mr Key, who consulted educational experts before the 2008 election on what would make the most difference to the one in five children who leave school illiterate and innumerate.

The policy was equally steadfastly opposed by the primary teachers’ union and the Principals’ Federation, chiefly on ideological grounds.

Their biggest fear is that once data on how schools are doing under national standards is reported to the Education Ministry, it will be available to the whole community, which will learn which of the schools they fund from their taxes perform best.

Outraegous. I’m waiting for Labour to announce a policy that they will ban league tables not only for schools, but also for hospitals. It is appalling that Tony Ryall publishes which DHBs have the quickest times for A&E waiting times and cancer radiation treatment. Not all DHBs have the same sort of patients, and Ryall’s hospital league tables should be banned as they are unfair to the hospitals not at the top.

But it is criminal that up to 20 per cent of students leave school unable to read, write and do arithmetic.

Former Labour Party president and new Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Mike Williams gets it: he is desperate to find literacy teachers willing to help prison inmates. Why would that be necessary if current education policy works as well as teachers claim? After all, those jailbirds went to school somewhere.

The NZ educational system works very well for the average student. However it works very badly for the bottom 20% and not that great for the top 10%.

If children who are failing can be helped to succeed by a different prescription – think kura kaupapa or Rudolf Steiner, for example – the trial is worth conducting to see what can be learned from it.

Absolutely. A great win for ACT and for New Zealand.

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Irony #3

December 7th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

All the groups which campaigned against national standards are against charter schools which would be exempt from national standards.

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