Education Minister Hekia Parata is preparing for an embarrassing drop in New Zealand's education rankings in an international survey next week.
She says a drop in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) is "probable" and will be due to Asian countries' improvement.
But Labour says any drop in the rankings should be sheeted home to an excessive focus by National on "testing" over the past five years.
Although National Standards does not actually involve national testing, Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said, "It shows that the last five years' focus on test-taking has been a disaster and it has actually narrowed the focus of our system and it has actually decreased the level of achievement within the education system".
A drop in ranking may be embarrassing because Ms Parata's catch-cry has been lifting achievement.
She referred to the likely drop in rankings in a 20-page speech yesterday to the Iwi Chairs Forum in Gisborne. She also said she wanted a form of national assessment to cover the "gap" for Years 9 and 10 (third and fourth formers).
Towards that aim, she said a National Standards online tool (PaCT) being trialled by primary teachers to help to make judgments against the standards would be available to secondary schools as well. At present, National Standards stop at Year 8 and NCEA begins in Year 11.
Ms Parata said the great strides Asian countries had made was one of the reasons she had sent a delegation to Singapore and Hong Kong last month to look at what was driving their success.
PPTA president Angela Roberts was on the delegation. Asked yesterday about her observations in Singapore and Hong Kong, she said she realised that they were very good at a very narrow range of subjects compared with New Zealand's broader curriculum.
Commenting on the prospect of a slip in Pisa rankings, Ms Roberts said what was important was the achievement of New Zealand children relative to their past achievement.
"If our children are doing really well, then I don't care if everyone in the world is doing really well. If we have slipped in ranking but we have sustained the achievement of our kids, then they are two different things."
Referring to Ms Parata's suggestion of extending the PaCT assessment tool to Year 9 and 10, she thought it was not necessary.
"It gets a bit tedious that her solution is another assessment tool. Actually what we need is not more assessment tools but more support."
Ms Parata also announced that myriad programmes and their funding designed to support improved performance by Maori in education, such as Te Kotahitanga and Starpath, would be folded into a single programme called Building On Success.