Now What: Recovering from the Standards Era
Original article: Now what? Recovering from the Standards Era
When the coalition government was confirmed last week, I joined with many of my teacher colleagues in a frenzy of jubilation and relief as we comprehended the significance of this outcome on the future of NZ education. One campaign promise, in particular – the abolishment of National Standards policy that has plagued schools since its introduction in 2009.
But after the initial elation and resultant hope that those in education experienced upon hearing the appointment of the new Minister, the reality of what this might mean for many teachers is beginning to creep in. There is little debate among educators that the Standards were having a significant and detrimental impact on our students. Furthermore, teachers were faced with the enormous workloads, over-testing and pressures to ‘get kids’ to the standard which, in turn, were sucking the joy out of teaching at all levels. However, at the signing of the coalition, and the confirmation from Minister Hipkins that the standards were to be abolished, so began the rhetoric about what these might be ‘replaced with’.
For those who have taught before the Standards era, there will be the vague recollection of the introduction of the New Zealand School Curriculum Document in 2007. This document signaled an approach to education that reflected international evidence of the need for integrated and holistic opportunities learning opportunities for our students. At its inception, it was lauded as a world-leader, innovative and reflective of the type of ‘21st Century learning’ that our future students were facing.
From this document came tools for teachers to specifically measure the progress of their students in the key areas of literacy and numeracy. The Literacy Learning Progressions, a document that describes specific literacy knowledge, skills, and attitudes that students draw on in order to meet the reading and writing demands of the curriculum; and the Number Framework enabling teachers to clearly establish their students’ current knowledge and mathematical skills, and determine the next point for them in progressing this knowledge and skill base.
With the arrival of the National Standards, so too was the well-orchestrated public perception that up until their arrival, teachers were not actively involved in the assessment and documentation of their students’ learning progress. That they were almost ‘winging it’ when it came to knowing what current skills and knowledge their students had, and were not actively planning for and responding to these in order to progress this knowledge and skill base. These Standards were clearly needed.
The vision, values and other learning areas of the New Zealand School Curriculum subsequently took a back seat. Literacy and numeracy were elevated to being the key focus of learning that teachers needed to focus on in order to demonstrate that they were doing their job, and that they could progress students to a stated benchmark.
The predicted side effects of the arrival of the National Standards also came to pass. Reduction in time spent on learning areas such as the Arts, Health & PE, Sciences and Social Sciences. Reduction in opportunities for students to be creative, innovative and develop problem-solving skills and independent thought. Reduction in time available for those ‘teachable moments’. And teacher well-being impacted negatively, with excellent practitioners leaving the classroom.