National Standards Again

Today Nigel Latta launched on the offensive at the press release from Hekia “how-do-you-say-her-name-Potato” Parata and “the Media”.
Here’s what was on his Facebook page (Wednesday 12 June, 10:14am)

‘National Standards’ aren’t.

The latest national standards ‘results’ being reported in the media are utter nonsense. Pure and simple. Even if we ignore the large inconsistencies between the way that the ‘standards’ are measured (and we can’t because the inconsistencies make comparisons all but impossible), and the fact that it assumes all children of a given age are maturing at the same rate (which they don’t), and we ignore the impact of little things like child poverty (which some politicians like to do much to their shame), it’s still impossible to say anything at all about a change in the numbers when you only have two data points.

They can’t say that a difference of 1.2-2% on the various measures between last year and this year is an ‘improvement’, because we simply don’t know.

If you had assessed all of those very same children again the day after they were assessed for these numbers, in the exact same conditions with the exact same measures, then you would also get a different number. That’s because in the real world we have this little thing called statistical variation–things never work out exactly the same. To make any meaningful statements about ‘improvements’ you need meaningful measures (which national standards aren’t anyway) over several different data points (i.e. over several years).

I wish the media would get that very simple, but very important point. Politicians will spin it as a gain, but it isn’t. It’s simply meaningless statistical ‘noise’.

The government went with national standards because they thought voters would like it, not because it’s the best thing for making progress on education. If we really wanted to lift our ‘national standards’ then, perhaps as a beginning, we’d take more care of the large numbers of our kids living in poverty.

When they produce their ‘rankings’ of schools I’m pretty sure it’s going to show a trend whereby higher decile schools meet/exceed the ‘standards’ much more than lower decile schools. I wonder why that might be? And who do we blame for that? Teachers?

Don’t be sucked in by all this political positioning. My advice is to ignore the national standards tables because they don’t mean anything. There’s a reason teachers were so opposed to the way these ‘national standards’ are being used… fundamentally because it’s nonsense!

This was all in relation to this article on Stuff. (which I have appended at the end of this post incase it goes missing!)

As Mr Latta points out, there is little point in celebrating increases of 1%, 2% or even 3% increases and calling them improvements. Even if you disregard the fact that these judgements are made based on a whole variety of factors, and that even from class to class, let alone school to school there are variations and interpretations of the standard, a statistical difference of 1-3% is too small to consider any more than an anomaly. Heck… My intellectual ability changes as much as 1-3% on any given day.

Add to this the fact that the assessment that teachers have been using has been shifting and adjusting their benchmarks as results come in, meaning that comparisons from year to year are even more ridiculous, and can quite easily account for more than 1-3%. Some more skeptical scholars such as myself think that these adjustments are probably being made to make sure that National Standards look good, and to give the allusion that they are working and increasing the achievement levels. The fact that the Ministry has hinted that these changes will be on-going as they are “…regularly reviewed and ways of moderating results would continue to be refined.” suggests to me that the benchmarks will continue to be changed until results improve.

Nigel Latta is right. These results are meaningless. They serve to popularise the government and their great education improving policies. They celebrate over these small increases in improvements and throw a party for National Standards. They claim it as their victory. They won’t say that teachers are the cause for these increases. No. Quite the opposite. They will say that the reason there isn’t more improvement is because of poor teaching. Teachers therefore need to work harder to raise the tail, while the government and ministry claim the prizes for meaningless “improvements”.

The media has some responsibility in this. Rather than accepting these remarks from Hekia Parata, why not actually stop for just a moment, and then ask her whether they can really claim 1-3% as a success. And if she won’t answer, then don’t report her story. The media are playing dumb, and reporting once again thinking that the rest of the country are fickle. We’re not. We are able to think. We are able to actually work out that what’s spurting out of the government’s mouth is rather tainted. Yet you won’t stop treating us like we won’t be able to work this out. That we take everything at face value.
It’s kinda pathetic.
It’s a good thing teachers don’t treat their students like that.

Related Reading

Students’ achievement ‘increasing’ – Stuff Article

The latest national standards data shows an increase in achievement particularly for Pacific children, according to figures released today.

But they also revealed some “concerning trends”, including a decline in achievement at different year-levels, especially in maths.

The latest overall national standards results in reading, writing and mathematics were released by Education Minister Hekia Parata this morning.

The data revealed the percentage of primary and intermediate school children achieving above, at or below the standards in the 2012 year.

It is the second time the results have been released publicly since the standards became mandatory in 2010.

Last year Fairfax Media obtained and analysed nationwide national standards results and published them on Stuff’s School Report.

The latest data showed:

– Achievement against the national standard for reading was up by 1.2 per cent from 76.2 per cent in 2011 to 77.4 per cent in 2012.

– Achievement against the national standard for mathematics increased by 1.4 per cent to 73.6 per cent in 2012.

– Achievement against the national standard for writing increased by 2 per cent to 70 per cent in 2012.

“What the data tells us is that there has been a small but incremental improvement in reading, writing and mathematics,” Parata said.

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

“It’s great to see that around 70 per cent of children are at or above the national standards and the increase in Pasifika achievement,” Parata said.

This was the first year national standards data had been broken down by year-level and there were some concerning trends including a decline in the achievement as the year-level increased, especially in mathematics, she said.

The New Zealand Educational Institute said this year’s data was even more unreliable than last year because of changes to a key assessment tool for teachers.

But the Ministry of Education said it was working to “continuously improve the range and quality of data”.

Ministry student achievement deputy secretary Rowena Phair said: “As with any new large-scale data-gathering initiative, there will be a period of adjustment.”

She said assessment tools would be regularly reviewed and ways of moderating results would continue to be refined.

L.I.Y. – Focusing Students

“We want W.A.L.T that is less Disney”.
A brilliant quote from Lester Flockton.

In my classroom, I have developed a new way of presenting the “WALT”.
W.A.L.T stands for “We Are Learning To” which is how the Learning Intention (or L.I.) should start for students.
In my class I did away with W.A.L.T.
It annoyed me and my students are more than capable of understanding “Learning Intention”. So I use L.I.

Recently we have heard about the benefits of students knowing WHY they are learning what we are learning. I have thought about this and added to the L.I.

L.I.Y – a little bit like D.I.Y, but not. It allows a teacher to combine the WHAT we are learning, and the WHY we are learning it. The “Y” stands for the word it sounds like… “why”.

I have been using this system in my class in all subjects and it has been really interesting to see students picking up on the new way of thinking and there has been a noticeable improvement in engagement.


For a long time I have been sceptical and cynical about the use of Learning Intentions in the classroom. My main reason being that we never had them growing up, and I turned out okay. We never worried about what we were learning or why we needed to learn it. We just did it because we respected the teacher and trusted that what they were doing in class was part of them providing a good education, so we just did what we were told.

However, it is a reality and an expectation that teachers should be directing their students by explaining what the students should be learning.

Much has been made of Success Criteria, or S.C. It’s the HOW students will know they succeeded or WHAT it is students are going to be doing.
To be honest I am even less enthusiastic about S.C. The How is just what happens during the lesson. I always give my students targets during a lesson, or expectations for what they need to complete. They know what they have learned without having to over think about it.

Sometimes it does feel like there is a lot of actual teaching time used up explaining what I’m going to be teaching, rather than actually teaching it. But I have seen some benefits, and even as a teacher, it is quite cool to see my learners come full circle and realise what they learned.

I feel that now with L.I.Y., I have made it myself. I came up with it using my own thought process, and because I “own” it, and made it my own, I’m more likely to use it on a regular basis in my class.