Learning standards-no longer clueless?

 

 “Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter-and getting smarter faster than most companies.”….    Cluetrain Manifesto 1999   cluetrain.com

 In the beer queue after the Taupo Challenge cycle event a couple of years ago I spotted a bulky T-shirt coming towards me with the inscription “I just got my IQ test back…”. The other side said.  “…luckily it was negative.”  That may, of course, have been a qualification to take part in a 160 km bike event on a hot day.

 But until the recent groundbreaking work done by Dr James Flynn, University of Otago, I hadn’t heard much for years about IQ tests apart from their use in dubious business recruitment procedures.  Howard Gardner’s 1983 concept of multiple intelligences was aimed at more accurately defining the concept of intelligence. The emergence of EQ tests designed to assess a range of emotional competencies and a battery of other assessment devices seemed to have consigned IQ testing to the educational time-out room. 

 Assessment in terms of qualifications has long been a big issue in secondary schools with the changing balance of external examinations and internal assessment and a shift from a ranking system to one that is standards-based, with various degrees of the egalitarian and the meritocratic.

 Many secondary teachers would say that the paperwork involved in the various testing regimes introduced in the last two decades is too onerous and their primary colleagues share their concerns.

 New Zealand’s primary and intermediate schools have long used formative assessment tests like PAT. Formative tests, as the name suggests are aimed at informing teaching and learning-to give teachers and students feedback to improve their part in the educational process. Assessment for learning, rather assessment of learning is the catch cry, although the two are inextricably woven.

 However, an assessment of the assessors in a 2007 Education Review Office report found that almost half were not using assessment results in this way. Many schools were not using the data elicited to identify under-achievers who needed extra help.

 This finding has reinforced Education Minister Anne Tolley’s push for national standards and open information at the primary school level, so that parents know how their children are doing in terms of literacy and numeracy.

 More selective and streamlined formative assessment, plus personal observation, focussed on lifting individual student achievement and giving teachers useful professional feedback, has got more chance of success than some of the blunt techniques tried elsewhere in the name of national standards.

 But despite the fact that National’s national standards approach appears to be picking up on the best existing practice in some New Zealand schools and avoiding the devalued currency of some testing regimes in the United States, many remain suspicious of the “national education league tables” which will result from information being more readily available.

 In the information age parents and students are going to share their perceptions of teachers and schools anyway. Web sites ranking teachers are just one example.

 It is exactly a decade since the Cluetrain Manifesto highlighted the emergence of new markets outside the grip of corporate organisations: “…These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language hat is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.”      

The Minister of Education stresses the need for plain English in reporting. The challenge is to develop useful and sound “value added” criteria which take account of socio-economic, teaching performance and other factors to make the information more useful in the hands of all concerned.                                     

 The new standards push, handled constructively and not used as a weapon for teacher or school bashing, will help build more healthy learning communities sharing knowledge and information to the mutual benefit of all. 

Lifting teaching and learning outcomes should be the only focus of national standards. In the words of Edward de Bono   “The essence of feedback is that the effect of an action is fed back to alter that action.”

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