IES, lifting school achievement, and Rousseau

How to lift school achievement is really quite easy, the example is already there – all it needs is more vigorous pursuit.

That example is: Base programmes on internal assessment, set targets linked to punishment and rewards, loosen moderation or, for an even quicker lift in achievement, have none at all, and widen the number of opportunities for this brilliant scheme to be applied.

These are the ingredients made clear by practice in the field – why it works, the dynamics of it, even though exercising the best minds in the country, has not yet been successfully explained.

Some assurance can be gained, though, by referring to neoliberalism which is grounded on the idea of what works, and this scheme works – what more needs to be said?

Why worry about the expense and bother of the IES when this scheme is at hand at no cost and no bother.

Polytechs are acknowledged leaders in the field, demonstrating considerable finesse – their example seems to point to secondary needing to move to no moderation at all – and the sooner the better.

Education institutions for Chinese students are also leaders in their own way. That way is to arrange for the Qualifications Authority to look determinedly elsewhere – be and let be seems to be the motto – a motto that is at the very heart of better learning and lifting education achievement.

The wonder is that universities can’t see that requiring students to sit exams and express themselves in adequate English is holding back both the quality of education and university cash flow – also benefits to the New Zealand economy. Can’t these pointy heads see that in one decisive move, everyone benefits from having internal assessment and bob’s your uncle for moderation?

Then there are secondary schools, where internal assessment is mainly restricted to lower NCEA levels. Secondary schools have gone a long way to meeting the government’s 85% target but they need to push on further, in particular, to give students at higher levels the same opportunity to excel as students at the lower levels.

As an instance, set targets for, say, physics, apply rewards and punishments, do away with moderation and we’ll have a full quota of people well versed in physics to solve the universe’s big questions (including, perhaps, the biggest of them all, why internal assessment is so much more successful than external).

Secondary teachers can be slow on the uptake – many schools have stalled around 85%, with teachers fretting about what the Qualifications Authority might or might not do, even though the Qualifications Authority is doing its best to communicate that under the new circumstances a hundred per cent target for all schools seems reasonable and accessible.

One of the problems with the way the scheme works at present is that so many students having sailed through internal assessment are then let down by their teachers who guide them to soft subjects in the following year, for instance, into hospitality when their internally assessed marks gave promise of a renowned career in applied mathematics. Teachers who specialise in internal assessment must demand of teachers who teach at the upper levels that they lift their game, also that internal assessment be available at all levels, so that New Zealand doesn’t garner a reputation for having people waiting on tables who might otherwise have designed the building they work in.

Recently, the Qualifications Authority thoughtfully took down information making clear the embarrassing gap in achievement occurring in the space of one year between students who were internally assessed and those who were externally assessed. This was done so that teachers who teach at the upper levels were given the space to ponder things and from there gather the courage to demand and face up to the challenge of internal assessment.

The answer overall must be to have a wave of internally assessed students internally roll through secondary then though universities to the betterment of society.

Sometimes journalists can be very dim about the matter

The most recent example being an article on Benjamin Riley, invited here by the ministry of education, to run the rule over our education system.

The article asks why student achievement varies so much depending on whether NCEA is internally or externally assessed. The intention, it seems, to cast aspersions on the validity of internal assessment.

For goodness sake: Why ask? Why mess with success?

But the journalist just won’t let it go.

The journalist points out that: ‘In February, the Weekend Herald published an analysis of NCEA entries which found the difference in achievement rates between the two types of assessment can be nearly 50 per cent, with the gap differing according to subject, level and school decile.’

Yes – what’s your problem?

But the journalist was nothing if not persistent.

‘Taking maths with calculus example, at decile 10 schools, 95 per cent of internals were achieved at Level 3, compared with 74 per cent of externals. The gap was much bigger at decile one schools (83 per cent to 34 per cent).’

The Qualifications Authority when asked about those findings told Mr Riley ‘there were a number of factors at play’.

Exactly. That’s done and dusted.

Unfortunately, the Qualifications Authority felt it incumbent to explain further.

Those factors included the ‘chance to resubmit internals (under precise rules), the type of assessment a particular school was focused on, and the variety of study skills needed for external assessments.’

This quite unnecessary further explanation has had the unfortunate effect of encouraging outbursts of cynicism.

None more prominent in this than the aforesaid Mr Riley.

He suggested that ‘more work is needed to understand whether other pressures are at play – including the government’s target to have 85 per cent of 18-year-olds achieving NCEA Level 2 or an equivalent qualification in 2017.’

That target is part of the equation for success, you poor fool. If the target wasn’t there, then the failure rate would be at the miserable level of the year ahead. What a dipstick!

But on he goes.

‘I worry that I see presentations made by senior ministry officials that happily report the arrow going up towards that 85 per cent target.’

‘ … does that show that students are learning more, or does that show that people are learning how to adapt and manipulate the system … I just don’t know.’

Who cares – they passed didn’t they? The students are happy. The minister is happy. Why shouldn’t the senior ministry officials be happy as well? Anyway, adapting and manipulating the system seems a pretty good life experience to go along with the any qualification.

What it shows you Mr Riley is that students learn far more from internal assessment than they do from external assessment. What it shows is that to close the gap between internal and external assessment, the example of internal assessment should be adopted throughout the education system for a brilliant outcome. It also shows that students are learning far more when the go to polytechs and institutions for Chinese students than they do at secondary schools.

So there!

My thoughts go back to Rousseau, my perennial guide on education as I have sought the answer to his big question about how to find the developmental process common to all humans. I think my quest is over. And it is to be found in New Zealand polytechs and higher institutions for paying Chinese students, also in the lower echelons of secondary schools.

And the quintessence of that lies in a combination of targets, rewards and punishments – and officials and everyone else looking the other way.

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3 Responses to IES, lifting school achievement, and Rousseau

  1. Michael Tarry says:

    Kelvin – when was the last time you were in a high school? I’m not sure where you get the idea that “lower levels of NCEA” are heavier on internally-assessed achievement standards than the “higher levels.” I’m not actually sure what you mean by “lower” and “higher” levels. There’s only three levels of NCEA (four, if you count Scholarship), and they’re all equally as heavy with internally- and externally-assessed standards as each other.

    In the example you give about secondary teachers steering a student who achieved highly in internally-assessed Maths standards into a hospitality class the following year – no, that wouldn’t happen. A student who does well in Level 1 Maths will be encouraged to take Level 2 Maths, and that would be the case even if that student didn’t achieve quite as well in the externally-assessed standards as they did in the internals. A secondary teacher wouldn’t shunt someone off into a cooking class to stymie their chances of a “successful career in applied mathematics.” Despite the dim view you take of secondary school teachers and the PPTA, I can assure you that us secondary teachers aren’t as irresponsible as you seem to be suggesting.

  2. Kelvin says:

    Thanks Michael: It was a satire Michael, and I stand by the main argument. I taught NCEA English for some years in retirement, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t have a dim view of secondary teachers. Secondary is in far better shape than primary, mainly because Tomorrow’s Schools has weighed on it so much for 25 years. The secondary assessment system contains elements of corruption. (This could have been extended to primary but I have done that at other times elsewhere.) How else to explain the disparities in marks highlighted in the newspaper article. And I do think that attention needs to be on more teachers (thus more teachers being available) providing individual attention to help children at key junctures of the system. You correctly point out that I was imprecise with references to higher and lower levels, but the gist was clear. As you probably know the lax assessment methods in polytechs may well end up leading to students going there as an easy way through. Things aren’t good and agree with the American visitor on that.

  3. Kelvin says:

    Perhaps I should add the following rider: Please note: This posting is a satirical metaphor for how education numbers are being corrupted and children’s learning distorted in all parts of education: primary, secondary, charter, polytechs, wananga, language schools, you name it. Some license has been taken with NCEA to that end.

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