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The anonymous blogger at Emil's Demesne* provides a few useful insights on how we might use National Standards data. For readers outside of New Zealand, school-by-school data on student achievement rates will soon be published. An early version of that data came out this week when Fairfax compiled results from those schools willing to release their data early; the rest will wait until the government publishes the comprehensive dataset. Emil begins:
My own prejudices. I am a policy analyst with nil expertise in education. I support publication of national standards data. I am agnostic as to whether national standards should have been introduced in the first place, but furious at those “public servants” who sought to obstruct implementation of a lawful Government policy: no integrity.
I’m mainly interested in what the standards data can and can’t tell us, and how they might be used to improve education outcomes. The lens I’m trying to look through is how would I tackle this if I were at the Ministry of Education?
He follows up:
Where cross-school comparisons might come in useful is in identifying stand-out schools so that successful and/or innovative practices can be, where appropriate, replicated more widely. Obviously, what works in a school within one particular cultural, social, and economic context won’t necessarily work for a school that’s in a totally different one. You do your data analysis and your case studies, then you devise sensible categories and work within them.
So long as moderation is at least better than hopeless, in time, we’ll also learn quite a bit more than we already know about the impact of social and economic factors on academic attainment during the early years of school. This is important, because it’s these early years that are assumed to matter most. National standards data, for all its flaws, is or can be made rich enough to support meaningful research that will help us improve how we teach our children.
Depending on whether or not I can be bothered, I might write up some stuff on why I don’t like deciles as analytical tools. But not this week.
The post has nice context around why we shouldn't expect standardized testing or strong grade moderation in New Zealand. What should parents be looking at rather than just a school's ranking?
I’d look for signs that schools are using the standards sensibly on a student level. Especially for students not at standard, I’d want to see individualized learning plans, with achievable benchmarks/milestones. Ideally, these plans would be designed in and as a collaboration between teacher, student, and caregiver. Give the student a sense of direction and ownership: here’s what we want you to be able to do, here’s our plan for getting you there, and here’s how you’ll be able to feel your own progress along the way.
Over time, I’d look for signs that schools are using standards, in conjunction with the learning plans, to do some value-added appraisal of teachers. I would incorporate this formally into professional development structures. I accept that there’s only so much a teacher can be reasonably expected to do for kids who turn up hungry, have caregivers with significant reading difficulties, or who switch between schools a lot. (These are, incidentally, things that are thought to correlate pretty tightly with decile.) Placing appropriate weight on factors like this is something that I think standards will be able to do over time, even if they’re fairly messy.
Helpful advice. Our oldest starts in at proper school in February next year. * Emil previously brought us chapter 1 of a short story chronicling how the Wellington bureaucracy might respond to a zombie outbreak, partially as follow up to a fun Twitter hashtag. I look forward to the story's second chapter.