Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lucia Grow Government by testing children

On the face of it, having educational standards for primary aged pupils seems like a good idea. Why not test all children to see if they are actually learning anything during all the hours that they have to attend school to see if they are actually gaining anything of value for the time? Sounds grand!

Except, I really wonder what the point of testing the children is?

If it's to help parents decide which school is better for their child, then they don't need test scores for the school to figure that out. Schools either have good reputations or they don't. You just have to ask around to find out if a school is any good, and then the ultimate test is if your child gets on with the other children and the teacher and is happy in the environment. Learning, quite honestly, at primary level is really incidental, something that is supposed to happen along the way.

The idea of testing every child from age 5 to 12 for literacy and numeracy immediately brings to mind an army of bureaucrats and all the associated office space, a massive computer system and a huge administrative overload for each school. As if teachers aren't gathering enough information on each child for the Government already. And as if the Government isn't large enough by now.

Maybe that's the point. This is a way of growing the Government without too many people making a fuss. Except for the teachers, and we all know they can be safely ignored due to their close interest in the subject.

The first time I heard of National's plan to test every primary school child, I was quite alarmed. It's one thing to test for an ability level, it's another to have an expectation of what a child should be able to do by a certain age. When it comes to music or swimming for example, there is no expectation of what a child should be able to do. It's accepted that some just learn faster than others. Some children will be doing laps at age 7 and others won't have that capability until age 12. But look at any competitive swimmer at age 16 and I doubt they'll have learned to swim at the same rate when they were at primary school.

In Finland, children do not learn to read until age 7 when they first start going to school. And their school days are initially only half a day long. Yet, by the time they are nine years old, those Finnish children consistently outperform all other OECD nations in the world in reading. Test a Finnish child at age 6 for reading, and you'll get a horrendous score. Test that same child at age 9 and the score beats the rest of the world.

So, why does National want to test five year olds? Why not wait until they are in high school?

When it comes down to it, one the greatest indicators of whether or not a child will read well is if a parent at home reads regularly to that child and how many books that family owns. In other words, does the family the child comes from value the written word or not?

Then the next indicator is the size of the school and classroom library. The larger it is, the better the children in that school are able to read and the better their reading scores. Give children motivation to read, and then give them access to books, read to them at school and let them have regular periods of silent reading, and you'll get success. Guaranteed.

So really, the Government would save primary school pupils and their teachers a lot of trouble by just asking each school what the size of their library and using that as a test of how well the children at that school are likely to be reading.

I don't blame the primary schools principals for getting into an uproar over this testing business. If the Government wanted to give parents choice over which school their child could attend, they should wipe out zoning, so that children aren't forced into their local public schools.

But, if the Government wants to expand itself, then collecting literacy and numeracy information on each child from age 5 is the perfect way to do it. Get NZ'ers used to having every little detail of their lives collected and collated by the Government, including whether or not they could tie their own shoes at age 5, or had to wait until age 10 before gaining proficiency. I'm sure some bureaucrat somewhere will write a report on it.

In the meantime, idiot journalists get in on the act of thinking testing is good for primary aged children: Deborah Coddington: Teach school big shots a lesson in parent power. Deborah thinks that testing is good for children and that parents should start a union to match the teacher's union. She also thinks that testing the children will expose the thick teachers. Except, here's a radical thought - why not test the teachers to expose the thick ones?

8 comment(s):

Shem Banbury said...

Interesting post and I agree with many of the points you raise. Your library idea is a good one. For an easier system just take the decial rating, as that says so much about the school in that small number.

There area few things I would like to comment on

Firstly the comment
"Learning, quite honestly, at primary level is really incidental, something that is supposed to happen along the way."
Lets just hope that sentence was a typo. While I dont deny that some children could get by by just being in class. 'Good teaching' requires both good teachers who provide a good classroom programme. The reason so many NZ students are struggling is because many people just think that if they send their children to school they will do the rest and they will learn by just being there. Unfortunatly that is not the case.

I am in favour of the new standards being bought into schools. With the new standards will soon come standardised testing. I am a teacher and I am not worried by this as I think it will be good for our education system.
Firstly, it will help parents determine where there children sit academically. This information is already being shown to parents at most good schools, however, I believe it wil really force 'slack' schools to sharpen up and provide parents with concrete evidence as to where their kids sit. While I'm on my high horse I would like to see schools have the power to hold students back who fail a year or do not reach a standard. Do that and we will be reading twice as well as the Norwegians!!!!

Secondly, it will force schools to narrow their curriculum. It may even force schools to 'teach to the test'. This is somehow seen as a bad thing in New Zealand. We have gone so far the other way our curriculum is crowded with so much junk (EOTC, Environmental Education, Dance, Drama, Health etc) that schools will have to leave things out to make sure their students are taught the content of the tests.

The reality is that most children are currently tested. Every child at age 6 should have a test and then most schools do PAT and Asttle tests from around Years 4-10.

The argument is should schools be forced to make students sit a NZ standardiased test. Then should that information become public. This is where National seem to be taking things and I think it will be good.

Anonymous said...

So Coddington and Act are closet unionists? hehe

Swim progression is very much fits'n'starts progress as kid's bodies develop. Different to academic progress, as it relies on physical growth. Sadly, schools are getting out of the area due to govt underfunding - need to tag funds to school pools. Start with the $35m over 4 years National are wasting on 'rich kid' private schools; with nearly $20,000pa in fees, Kings College just don't need govt subsidies!

I agree with Ozy Mandias on primary school progress, it relies on good teachers and a decent curriculum, but with solid parental backup. I'm not confident though, that parents of under-achieving kids will be motivated by poor test scores to help their kids more (or even ask the schools why). Far too many parents are just too lazy. Ask a teacher what proportion of parenst show to parent-teacher nights. And how the kids of the no show parents are doing in school...

Lucia Maria said...


No. Not a typo.

While the teaching may not be incidental, the learning mostly is.

Children don't go to school with the express purpose of learning anything - they get sent to school to learn and if the teaching is good, and if the parents value their learning, they will learn.

In terms of reading, which underpins everything else, self-motivation is key, and if children do not see the point in reading, are never given enjoyment through being read to, they will not have the motivation to learn to read well themselves.

I'm not against testing as such. I homeschool and test both mine regularly. In fact, my boys seem to thrive on beating their own scores.

However I am against growing the government for no good purpose, and that is mostly what this post is about.

Shem Banbury said...

Lucia - didn't think it was a typo and you are probably correct on the learning aspect.

I also agree on your other points. Sadly self motivaton is usually linked to family modelling of reading and enjoyment of books.

Sadly, you are correct, the government will probably grow like an uncomfortable zit.

Do homeschooled children have access to the 'normal' tests other students do at school. Or are you on your own in that area???

Lucia Maria said...


I have free access to the entire NZ Curriculum, should I decide to take advantage of it and send away for it. I don't know if that includes tests, because I've not taken advantage of the offer yet.

Probably by the end of the year I may like to know where my kids are at in comparison to those in school, but at this point that information is not really necessary for us as I have a plan and goals and achieving those is more important.

Shem Banbury said...

Good on you for homeschooling. It cant be easy, although I would assume there are lots of benefits.

Enjoy your writing.



Lucia Maria said...

Ozy, thanks!

When I first started up again (two years ago now) I think for the first month or so one of my eyes wouldn't stop twitching every lunch time. That was when the stress of the day caught up with me.

I'm much more relaxed and focused now that I've figured out what both my children actually need to be doing. But this year has been like pushing a rock uphill.

Psycho Milt said...

This standardised test bollocks would be a useful indicator of how good schools were if children were randomly distributed among the schools. They're not, so it's not. Just another way for politicians to be seen to be doing something.

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