Studies show schools under pressure

By Lydia Anderson

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Robert Hyndman.
Robert Hyndman.

Reading, writing and math are being pushed ahead of other subjects in schools because the Government thinks it's easier to measure such achievement, a Western Bay principal warns.

"The attitude is if you can't measure it, it's not worth doing," Western Bay of Plenty Primary Principals' Association president Robert Hyndman said.

His comments follow the release of the latest report from the Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (Rains) project which analysed how six schools had fared with national standards.

Waikato University professor Martin Thrupp, who led the study, said worrying trends had popped up in schools since the standards for reading, writing and mathematics were implemented in 2010.

Schools were finding it tough to make time for subjects such as art, history and social studies, because of the pressure to focus on core national standards skills.

Mr Hyndman, of decile four Brookfield School, said the report's findings hit the nail on the head.

"Pressure is coming on us to spend our time measuring, and getting data, making assessments."

He had just returned from visiting schools in London and New York, and found a similar trend towards narrowing the curriculum. "I had sort of thought this is a New Zealand thing, it's not. They're experiencing the same thing."

In September, an Education Ministry-commissioned report found Kiwi teachers' use of the standards last year lacked dependability, ranking children's reading, writing and maths correctly only about 60 per cent of the time.

Professor Thrupp said there was a need for immediate change in the policy to help students and teachers because national standards assessment was becoming too dominant in schools.

The New Zealand Educational Institute commissioned the Rains report.

President Judith Nowotarski said the rigorous research presented indisputable evidence that national standards were damaging primary school education.

"For us, key findings are that already national standards have started to have a negative impact on primary schools and the teaching of children - despite the best intention of staff to continue to provide a rich and creative curriculum for children."

Time spent measuring, testing and assessing standards was taking teachers away from real teaching and learning, and other vitally important areas of the curriculum were given less attention, she said.

"We know that subjects such as science for instance will be vital for the economy yet national standards do not encourage any focus on that subject.

"But overall, an important principle to remember is that not all children learn the same way or progress at the same rate, or at the same time, so it is totally wrong and misleading to place an arbitrary measure at a particular point in at child's age and say they are failing if they do not meet a certain point at a certain time."

Education Minister Hekia Parata told Radio New Zealand that national standards were a response to previous concerns with the education system.

"National standards doesn't narrow the curriculum at all, far from it, what it does it prompt the teaching of literacy and numeracy."

- additional reporting Vaimoana Tapaleao

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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