|Junior students receiving progress awards at term 1 Achievement Assembly.|
The whole series is available online at: tinyurl.com/ThePrimaryIssue
I have been following this investigation with great interest, as it has been taking a hard look at how and why children at primary school achieve or don't achieve. The spotlight is on National Standards, whose introduction was a political initiative, designed to raise achievement.
One of the most strident objections to National Standards is that the starting point for children at their enrolment point varies enormously in terms of what they are already capable of, particularly in their language development. Kirsty Johnston's feature highlights the fact that while some children can barely count to five when they start school, or have never held a pencil, they can speak another language, such as Samoan or Tongan. This lag in early school expectations, which doesn't correlate to intelligence, follows many children throughout their eight years of primary (or primary and intermediate) education, and through into secondary school.
The objection focusses on the fact that National Standards do not measure how far a child has progressed in their learning from their starting point. These children arrive at secondary school, with the expectation that by the end of Year 10, they will be capable of commencing their first year of NCEA. The political mandate is centred around students achieving NCEA Level 2 by the time they turn 18. This is irrespective of the ability level at which they started their secondary schooling. The philosophy behind National Standards dooms many children to failure well before they arrive at secondary school, as they are being measured according to their ability to reach an established standard of academic competence, not how far they have progressed in their learning from where they started. NCEA follows the same pattern.
Once students reach secondary school, their academic achievement contributes to the overall profile of NCEA results, which are published nationally. In the eyes of the community, the school's reputation is determined by these published results. Naturally, every school works extremely hard to support students achieving to the highest level. Students are challenged to work to the best of their ability to achieve, irrespective of the point at which they started. Fundamentally, many students whose primary school experience was one of never reaching the standard, and being categorised as failures in the particular criteria which are being measured, will have a tough time in overcoming this stigma at secondary school. During my time as a secondary school principal, I have been inspired by many outstanding teachers who have encouraged and challenged students to be successful, and to achieve to a high level, despite this stigma. I have likewise been inspired by the students whose sucess flies in the face of the expectations of failure, which National Standards have reinforced.