Researchers share concern over education standards

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Professor John O’Neill

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Associate Professor John Clark

Researchers share concern over education standards
Two education researchers say concerns expressed by school trustees over national standards in primary schools are warranted because of the risk of harm to learners inappropriately labelled as "below standard".
More than 225 schools are refusing to introduce part of the standards to set targets for achievements against them.
Professor of teacher education John O’Neill says the schools’ stance represents a reasonable balance between boards of trustees' duty of care for pupils and families and their obligation to implement Government policy.
“The vast majority of schools can continue to report on national curriculum requirements, meeting their obligations to report student progress in these areas” Professor O’Neill says. “It is a great pity however, that the Government is insisting that an untested policy be implemented in spite of independent research evidence of its potential harm to pupils.
“A survey of parents last year by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research showed that only 14 per cent of those surveyed were supportive of national standards, while 38 per cent were concerned. I suspect most boards and parents are becoming increasingly concerned as the flaws and potential harms from national standards to their children are revealed. If there had been a proper trial of the standards, none of these concerns need have arisen. Parents wouldn’t allow their children to take an unproven drug or medical therapy. Why should they allow their children to be experimented on with education policy?”
Another researcher Associate Professor John Clark from the University’s College of Education says the introduction of national standards has brought with it several troubling issues. Dr Clark says the standards are limited in their scope, are not adequately measurable, and have not been sufficiently tested – meaning a high risk of failure.
“The Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, has said that 150,000 children fail to achieve, and that national standards are the means by which their achievement can be raised but how this will happen, remains unclear," Dr Clark says. "Merely documenting national standards will not lift pupil achievement. Specific causal mechanisms for increasing learning must be identified and to date, these are singularly lacking.”
He says under-achievers risk being labelled as failures and being treated accordingly by parents, teachers and peers, placing them at a profound disadvantage. “The minister has said national standards could go either way. The problem with that analysis is that, should the standards fail, there will be serious consequences for the children who do not succeed in achieving them."
Dr Clark says the contrast between arguments defending national standards and specific evidence contained in a 1978 report from the Department of Education on Educational Standards in State Schools is concerning.
“The 1978 report refers to standards as yardsticks or norms used to measure the value or worth of something and acknowledges that people tend to measure things against them that are stable or consistent. Education is far more complex than this,” he says.
In a paper, entitled National Standards: Are They Up To Standard? published by the New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work recently, Dr Clark says it is a moot point whether or not the standards will achieve the goals set for them. “There are a number of questions that remain unanswered. What are standards? How are they arrived at? Can they be measured, and how so?
“If they succeed – and only time will tell – then children will be the winners. But the risks are great and history is not on their side.”
Professor O’Neill says that in light of the latest action by parents on boards of trustees, the Government might usefully pause, consider the detailed concerns have been expressed, reflect on the original intentions of its policy and borrow an old medical adage: First do no harm. 
Captions: Professor John O’Neill (top) and Associate Professor John Clark
Two education researchers say concerns expressed by school trustees over national standards in primary schools are warranted because of the risk of harm to learners inappropriately labelled as "below standard".

More than 225 schools are refusing to introduce part of the standards to set targets for achievements against them.
Professor of teacher education John O’Neill says the schools’ stance represents a reasonable balance between boards of trustees' duty of care for pupils and families and their obligation to implement Government government policy.

“The vast majority of schools can continue to report on national curriculum requirements, meeting their obligations to report student progress in these areas” Professor O’Neill says. “It is a great pity however, that the Government is insisting that an untested policy be implemented in spite of independent research evidence of its potential harm to pupils.

“A survey of parents last year by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research showed that only 14 per cent of those surveyed were supportive of national standards, while 38 per cent were concerned. I suspect most boards and parents are becoming increasingly concerned as the flaws and potential harms from national standards to their children are revealed. If there had been a proper trial of the standards, none of these concerns need have arisen. Parents wouldn’t allow their children to take an unproven drug or medical therapy. Why should they allow their children to be experimented on with education policy?”

Another researcher Associate Professor John Clark from the University’s College of Education says the introduction of national standards has brought with it several troubling issues. Dr Clark says the standards are limited in their scope, are not adequately measurable, and have not been sufficiently tested – meaning a high risk of failure.

“The Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, has said that 150,000 children fail to achieve, and that national standards are the means by which their achievement can be raised but how this will happen, remains unclear," Dr Clark says. "Merely documenting national standards will not lift pupil achievement. Specific causal mechanisms for increasing learning must be identified and to date, these are singularly lacking.”

He says under-achievers risk being labelled as failures and being treated accordingly by parents, teachers and peers, placing them at a profound disadvantage. “The minister has said national standards could go either way. The problem with that analysis is that, should the standards fail, there will be serious consequences for the children who do not succeed in achieving them."

Dr Clark says the contrast between arguments defending national standards and specific evidence contained in a 1978 report from the Department of Education on Educational Standards in State Schools is concerning.

“The 1978 report refers to standards as yardsticks or norms used to measure the value or worth of something and acknowledges that people tend to measure things against them that are stable or consistent. Education is far more complex than this,” he says.

In a paper, entitled National Standards: Are They Up To Standard? published by the New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work recently, Dr Clark says it is a moot point whether or not the standards will achieve the goals set for them. “There are a number of questions that remain unanswered. What are standards? How are they arrived at? Can they be measured, and how so?

“If they succeed – and only time will tell – then children will be the winners. But the risks are great and history is not on their side.”
Professor O’Neill says that in light of the latest action by parents on boards of trustees, the Government might usefully pause, consider the detailed concerns have been expressed, reflect on the original intentions of its policy and borrow an old medical adage: First do no harm. 

 

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