The na­tional stan­dards poser

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

In the hands of ca­pa­ble spin­doc­tors, even ac­cu­rate sta­tis­tics can be made to lie.

That be­ing the case, the spin­meis­ters could have a field day with the par­tial data on na­tional ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards that emerged last week, which has en­abled some me­dia out­lets to be­gin to con­coct so-called ‘‘league tables’’ of school per­for­mance.

As things stand, these ‘‘na­tional stan­dards’’ fig­ures com­prise in­com­plete re­turns from a con­tro­ver­sial process.

It ar­guably does not give a gen­uine pic­ture of the suc­cess or oth­er­wise of schools in meet­ing the needs of the chil­dren they teach, much less pro­vide a re­li­able rank­ing of how schools are per­form­ing rel­a­tive to one an­other.

Re­gard­less of the wis­dom of the na­tional stan­dards process, it is now the law. For that rea­son, the 28 per cent of schools es­ti­mated to be not fully com­ply­ing with the re­port­ing stan­dards can ex­pect to come un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to toe the line.

In the mean­time, the par­tial data should prob­a­bly be re­garded less as a re­li­able snap­shot of ac­tual ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment in New Zealand, and more as a tacti- cal ma­noeu­vre to iden­tify and iso­late those school boards still en­gaged in ac­tions of de­fi­ance. The hand­ful of schools – be­tween 20 and 25, re­port­edly – that have not yet pro­vided any na­tional stan­dards data can ex­pect to be first in line for retri­bu­tion.

A sense of in­evitabil­ity now per­vades the na­tional stan­dards process.

The Prin­ci­pals Fed­er­a­tion may be right when it says that many schools are meet­ing the so­cial and fi­nan­cial needs of de­prived chil­dren and com­mu­ni­ties in ways that do not show up in any na­tional stan­dards tables.

But in­creas­ingly such ar­gu­ments look like an at­tempt to re­lit­i­gate a bat­tle that has been lost.

The Labour Op­po­si­tion has clearly read the writ­ing on the wall, and recog­nised that whole- sale re­sis­tance to na­tional ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards would be a li­a­bil­ity at the next elec­tion.

For that rea­son, Labour has not done a com­plete U- turn on na­tional stan­dards, which it con­tin­ues to de­nounce as a coun­ter­pro­duc­tive waste of teacher re­sources, but has em­barked on an at­tempt to neu­tralise the is­sue.

Thus, it has be­gun pro­mot­ing the idea that the na­tional stan­dards process should be op­tional, not manda­tory.

Rather than dump the new sys­tem en­tirely, a Labour-led gov­ern­ment would al­low some schools to opt out and use al­ter­na­tive mea­sures of achieve­ment.

Iron­i­cally, this is much the same tac­tic used by con­ser­va­tive schools op­posed early on to the NCEA sys­tem, and that have re­tained the right to choose al­ter­na­tive exam meth­ods to test pupil per­for­mance.

Just how Labour can en­sure na­tional stan­dards will be met in those schools opt­ing out of the method­ol­ogy was left un­ex­plained – but as with NCEA, there will pre­sum­ably be few po­lit­i­cal gains to be made ei­ther way in 2014 by hag­gling over the route be­ing taken to reach much the same goal.

For now, the na­tional stan­dards dis­pute of­fers an in­ter­est­ing re­ver­sal of the usual po­si­tions. It is a cen­tre- right gov­ern­ment en­forc­ing a cen­trally-driven and stan­dard­ised sys­tem of mea­sure­ment re­port­ing, while the cen­treleft is cham­pi­oning in­di­vid­ual choice by schools.

No won­der the pub­lic may still be feel­ing con­fused by the twists and turns of this de­bate.

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