Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The National Standards Debate

Well, strictly speaking it's not a debate anymore but nonetheless it is a hot topic for educators at the moment. It seems everything I pick up to read or every conversation I tune into is related to national standards these days!

I've recently watched John Hattie on the EdTalks site. As the title (National Standards: Can we learn from others' mistakes?) suggests, Professor Hattie discusses the key lessons to be learned from the experiences of other countries where national standards have also been implemented.

As an ICT-PD Cluster facilitator I've been taking a rather narrow view of national standards. In principle I don't have a problem with them I must confess! I've had a quick look at kit sent to schools, the reporting to parents information etc and there is no rocket science that I could spot. There is no doubt that schools need to keep parents informed including:
  • plain language
  • transparency
  • actual achievement levels compared to expected achievement, with evidence
  • learning goals
  • next learning steps
  • what can be done to help at home
  • etc
I do have two issues I'm mulling over though.
  1. Most schools are still in the midst of their curriculum design which is due to be completed for 2010. From what I'm hearing at other schools it seems much of this has to go on hold while national standards are implement and this is going to be a huge shift in practice for many with a comparatively short lead in time. It's a shame if we lose our momentum at this stage as the NZ Curriculum has the potential to make significant change in student achievement (unlike national standards perhaps).
  2. My base school has been working hard on e-Portfolios for the past two years. At this stage we appear to be including all the national standard requirements already and much more besides. Students from 5 to 11 years are setting literacy and numeracy goals, reflecting regularly on their progress and uploading evidence to support this. Teachers offer regular comments on progress throughout the year in plain language addressed to the student including any assessment data and next learning steps. Instead of reporting twice a year to parents, our e-Portfolios are online and available 24/7 to see learning as it happens with the ability to give written feedback to their child as often as they choose. e-Portfolios are the focus of two collaborative conferences (teacher, parents, student) held in Term 2 and 4. Unfortunately, it looks like we are going to have to change our format significantly and probably ask teachers to duplicate data entry to meet the national standards guidelines for reporting to parents. This extra workload is going to add no value to what we are already doing and may in fact take away due to the added stress on teachers. The alternative is to chuck out what we have done for the past two years and simply fill in the blanks on the templates provided in the school kits. Not a chance!
It's early days and there is still much reading and thinking to do!


Manaiakalani said...

Well said Belinda, but I am a but mystified as to why you would not use your ePortfolios. Surely it would only take minimal tweaking to them given what you have already accomplshed?

Belinda said...

One thing we are worried about at the moment is the wording of NAG2 which says something along the lines of reporting to parents "in writing" twice a year. How literally do we have to take this I wonder?

Heymilly said...

Surely what is happening will meet those guidelines if not exceed them. If the Ministry are going to spend money on e-Portfolio reports and time investigating them then surely they have to allow for this in the mix? Seems a bit archaic to make those schools step backwards from what they are already doing.

Manaiakalani said...

Having spent part of the day on Friday in a school-wide planning meeting we are all convinced that those templates mentioned are only for folk with no alternate ideas! We will certianly be expecting the bulk of it to continue via eportfolios. The proviso being that for parents with no computers/internet we will provide a printout - and that is fair enough.

Belinda said...

I totally agree that if there is internet access for parents then we should provide a printout. Glad to hear we won't be the only ones not using those templates provided. I don't think I realised you were doing e-Portfolios - it would be good to have a chat with you and compare notes one day if you are interested!

Ms F said...

I am keen to attend your workshop at L@S and see what's been happening for the past couple of years at EPS. Surely the number of parents without internet access would be minimal?! Would it be necessary to provide a transcript of conversations??? You definately couldn't get the same experience with a written teacher comment on a sample of the kids work!