New Zealand schools must prioritize learning over testing by @stuartkellynz

Sound familiar?


Recent comments by NZ’s Education Minister Hekia Parata regarding the need for more testing at Year 9 and Year 10 was not only extraordinarily bizarre but also likely to cause unnecessary consternation for the students, schools and parents concerned.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Stuart Kelly and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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In the NZ Herald article Younger students face testing times, she is quoted as saying:

“If you look at the system from when a child starts school to when a child leaves school, the hole in the system in terms of the absence of an assessment tool is Year 9 and 10,”

Ms Parata said this during a question and answer session at the NZ Principals Federation conference.

NZ_flag_PhotoHas our minister not heard of P.A.T., e-asTTle or MidYIS or heaven, formative assessment, let alone learning? Now that would be one announcement I’d love to hear!

Even better she goes on to be quoted as highlighting:  Schools would be able to choose which option worked best for them.  What freedom of choice! Students (and school communities) in a country of just over million are going to end up with nationally “comparable statistics” in reading, writing and numeracy from basically an “anything goes” evidence base of Overall Teacher Judgements (OTJs) to potentially a formal one-off assessment context such as a junior mCAT.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have no objection to students being accurately assessed in terms of their reading, writing and numeracy and my additional preferences oratory and digital competency. I do however have considerable objection to such a context proposed here when it seems the legitimate and authentication integration of learning and assessment can and has occurred in many New Zealand & global school contexts for at the very least ten to fifteen years.

Before examining the point and/or rational of filling in such “an assessment hole” in these junior years, let’s take a closer look at the options suggested:

  1. Expand National Standards down to Year 9 and 10. In reality, this has been on the table for at least the five years. I personally asked this minister two-three years at the Remuera Golf Club “when are National Standards going to be introduced into Years 9 and 10?” My question was not exactly answered but suffice to say, I heard a lot of learning and the community’s need for clear student information. If the ministry looked close enough at the type, frequency and quality of the authentic assessment already existing in New Zealand classrooms, there would be little need for such grandiose announcements about “assessment holes”.  At Aorere College, we already test our Year 9 and 10 students’ Reading & Numeracy diagnostically three times a year using adaptive e-asTTle testing for learning. We already have this information on our students’ reports. We already inform our community about these results both in person at highly-attended twice-yearly Academic Conferences and on the students’ twice-yearly reports.  The ministry could have this information in a heartbeat as long as we were comfortable that the data would not be presented in “league table” formats. If such information was ever to be made public, it should be presented in terms of value-added not just the current level. It is somewhat incredulous to be expecting parents and the education community to have faith in figures that could be derived from a range of subjective and objective contexts. If the ministry were being upfront, the easiest and fairest  (but still draconian) way to obtain such figures would be via a common test that all students concerned would sit at the same time using the same resources around the country. The eMCAT is heading this way, so why not?
  2. Roll NCEA down from its usual start at Year 11: Although it’s a close finish, this would have to be the worst suggestion, just.. mind you! Why not start NCEA at Year 1, kindergarten, why not just teach by rote? Let’s remove all childhood and teenage years from our youth, let’s test, test, test and that’ll get better results. As the more-informed global educational community is moving towards “naturally occurring evidence” (NZQA terminology), we have a minister that wants more assessments, thus more teaching to assessments and less time for the essential now and future skills of connectivity, collaboration and creativity, least of all time for developing independent, confident, world-ready contributors, leaders and innovators. If our dear minister took the time to find out how devalued Level 1 is becoming in schools, she would not have gone anywhere near suggesting previous levels below Year 11. In our school as in many others, there is a considered debate about skipping Level 1 and looking at Level 2 across two years. This would allow able Year 11 students to move on according to their advanced needs while ensuring others are developing core learning, assessment and life skills without the pressure of it counting for credits. To have NCEA at Years 9 and 10 goes against the very ethos of our world-renowned New Zealand Curriculum that has the learning area information at the very back and principles, values, key competencies at the very front. Yet despite this, it is being suggested that Miss Parata is reading the NZC back to front. Year 9 and 10 should have almost no summative assessment. The focus must be explicitly on learning, empowerment, and formative assessment.
  3. Use a modified youth version of the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool, an online approach that provides information on reading, writing and numeracy skills: Hmm see Number 1. above!

The saying “a little bit of knowledge…” comes to mind here. Any testing that occurs in a school must be authentic, timely and part of the students’ learning journey. The testing must be for the students, parents, community and lastly the government. It is interesting to note that the article suggests that the funds for this testing could come from IES (Investing in Educational Success).

I always thought that the focus of this programme was better learning collaboration and communication, not a fund for questionable testing regimes.

Thankfully the news, my dear friends, is not all doom and gloom for we do have voices of reason noted in the article. Thankfully Sandy Pasley and Patrick Walsh stood firm in such a mire with the last and hopefully final word on this “initiative” best left to Walsh, the principal of John Paul College, “There’s an argument to say, well, let’s just focus on learning in Year 9 and 10.” Amen to that!

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