Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Latest Learning Matters Column

I know a lot of people think that teachers are always on holiday, but I can assure you that by the time we get to mid December we are looking forward to break. This break allows not only time to relax with family, but also to reflect on the year that has gone and to begin preparation for the coming year.

What we really hate is when a new policy or programme is thrown at us in the last few days before we break for the summer. Such timing reduces the opportunity to have some input into quite important decisions.

I was horrified to hear on Thursday that legislation requiring regular testing of students against set standards at all year levels is being rushed through parliament and will most probably be law by the time you read this article.

I was aware that such a programme was National Party policy before the election and attempted to alert as many people within the education sector as possible. I accept that the National Party is now in government and has the right to introduce its policies. However, I would have expected that such a major policy would have been debated through the select committee process so that those of us in the education sector could have given some feedback.

The result is that schools, from primary to secondary, are having imposed on them a programme of regular testing against targets without any consultation with schools. I would have liked to know what research exists internationally which shows such a process has a positive impact on learning and achievement.

The United States introduced such a programme several years ago and was called “No Child Left Behind”. It is now more commonly known as “No Teacher Left Standing”! Most importantly, however, this programme has resulted in the United States languishing in 42nd place on the International PISA testing scale while New Zealand is in 3rd place.

If it is such a worthwhile programme and has value for teachers and students, I wonder why time wasn’t taken to explain this to principals and teachers. Rushing it through the week before Xmas, without consultation, only serves to raise suspicion that the proposal would not stand up to rigorous and vigorous debate. I fail to understand why we could not have been involved in such a debate in the early part of 2009.

During my sabbatical I saw first hand the consequence of such a programme. I saw principals as administrators rather than as educational leaders, I saw teachers who concentrated on teaching to the tests and being stressed by the uncertainty of the results, and I heard stories of students being turned off the joy of learning as most of the year was spent preparing for tests. This is not the educational environment we want for our country.

Hearing this news has certainly put a dampener on my festive season. You can, however, be assured that the leaders of schools in your district are determined to protect the elements of our education system which are envied by the rest of the world.

To all of you who either work in the education community or who support it by getting your kids to school in the right frame of mind for learning I wish an enjoyable summer where you will get the chance to spend quality time with your whanau. I look forward to your continued strong involvement in 2009. And remember: learning matters.

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