Taking credit too far

Hekia Parata’s trumpeting of National Standards data was old style politics, despite qualifications.

The release of the second year of results of student performance against “National Standards” was marred by its politicisation.

The Education Minister decided to note the 1.7% “improvement” in performance, although she was at pains to note the qualifications.

It’s a nice psychological trick: give the headline, then give the qualifications. We know that most people will only take-away the headline number, but it is all the more believable because the source appeared open and reasonable in offering the headline number.

The qualifications on that data are immense: it represents 85% of students, it’s only been two years (one really, in terms of teaching to the standard), and the data is not national at all, as grading of students has not been moderated across the country (ie. the marking just represents what each school interprets as meeting the Standard).

So delivery of the number was probably a success if you consider the general public to be the audience.

But I’m going to moot that there’s a better way – a way to a longer term and deeper credibility.

Really successful politicians would not release the data themselves – they would leave it to the Ministry. When asked for comment, they would say, “it’s too early to tell” and “I’m listening to what principles, teachers and parents have to say about the results and experience so far”.

They would do this because it empowers them; they appear confident, reasonable, open minded, and connected to people.

My point is that a moderate, self-effacing approach now, would position Hekia Parata for much more credible claims in the future.

While I’m on this topic, I want to note two massive issues with National Standards:

1) People ‘lie’. Anyone in or close to the teaching fraternity has heard how teachers and schools are deliberately re-categorising the performance of students for the formal reporting; to avoid things like student identification in small schools, or out of a kind of group think where everyone excuses generous marking because they don’t want they and their school to be targeted. It’s the irony of measurements learned painfully by the Soviet Union, when reported output went through the roof while the economy went through the floor. 

2) Narrow teaching results in narrow improvements. Although I don’t believe for a moment that there could be any improvement in maths and english in just one year of a programme of measurement, over time, there should be. Concentration on those topics should improve performance. But other learning, especially the more valuable and holistic things like values and citizenship, won’t be taught. And because we’re not measuring them, we won’t know we’re failing at a very deep level.

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