Study shows schools setting own standards

Fears school pupils will not be pushed to achieve to the greatest of their abilities are becoming a reality under National Standards, a report shows.

The report looking at six diverse schools from throughout the country has revealed schools are struggling to keep up with demands under the system.

It also shows at least one school has lowered its pupils' achievement targets so it did not look bad if the set target was not reached.

The Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards project - commissioned by the education sector union, the Educational Institute - is a three-year study, led by Prof Martin Thrupp, of the University of Waikato.

It showed schools were interpreting National Standards in different ways, taking into account factors within their own community such as socio-economic status, location and curriculum development.

One school had refused to use the category "below" when informing parents of their child's progress because, it said, it unfairly labelled them as failures.

Another school had gone to the extreme measure of lowering its school achievement target.

"Already, one of the schools in the study has pushed down its National Standards student achievement targets because it doesn't want to be in a situation where it looks like it's not meeting them," Prof Thrupp said.

The report shows a school dubbed "Seagull School" dropped its achievement target for its pupils from 95% to 90%.

A deputy principal at the school said in the report: "We did 95% because a lot of research says that teachers who have high expectations will move children more - so you want to do that.

"You want to set [high targets] whether everyone meets it or not.

But [the National Standards system encourage you to be safe] and it doesn't alter any learning. All it does is cover your back."

Under the system, year levels have standard benchmarks in literacy and numeracy. Parents are informed throughout the year whether their child has achieved to that level.

There has been great debate about National Standards since the idea was put forward by the National Party in 2007.

In contrast to "Seagull School", staff at another school, dubbed "Cicada", were cutting back its curriculum in order to get pupils up to National Standards levels.

Out of the school's 500 pupils, 80% were learning English as a second or third language.

In a newsletter, the school told parents: "The curriculum is going to become very narrow.

If everybody's jobs are now dependent on making significant improvement in achievement ... people are going to focus only on reading, writing and maths.

"Curriculum areas such as PE, music and art are likely to be squeezed out. Those things that many students enjoy and most of us see as important in an education system will be given a reduced status."

Minister of Education Hekia Parata is in the United States on business. A spokeswoman for the ministry said Ms Parata had yet to read the report and would comment then.

Perry Rush, chairman of the Boards Taking Action Coalition, which believes there are many flaws in National Standards, said the study confirmed National Standards was a policy of forced compliance.

"Last year, the ministry decided to ignore the clamour from the education sector regarding these flawed standards and I think it's no surprise that this study shows that schools are conforming in name only. These standards are certainly not national standards."


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