Visible Learning does a disappearing act

Greetings Kelvin

I have followed up on your request to track down whether the Visible Learning seminar went ahead. I checked it out with a number of schools; no-one could recall hearing anything about it. Maybe ‘Invisible’ might be a better name for the outfit … over here anyway.

Kind regards

From: Info at Visible Learning

To: Info at Visible Learning

Sent: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 1:32 PM

Subject: RE: National Standards Seminar

Hello again, As the school holidays are looming, if you are thinking about coming along to our NS seminar, please just drop me a quick note to let me know – don’t worry about filling in the form yet as that can wait.  Unless we receive a few more registrations unfortunately, we won’t be able to run with it and I know those already booked in will be disappointed. (I realise it will be quite a distance for some of you to travel, but we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to take part. So if there are any questions, please just ask, otherwise we will be making a decision on Thursday, before Easter.)

Kind regards


From: Info at Visible Learning
Sent: Friday, 26 March 2010 2:33 p.m.
To: Info at Visible Learning
Subject: National Standards Seminar

Our Visible Learning Lab team of facilitators will be running an interactive workshop on the National Standards in Tauranga shortly. The focus of our workshop is on you understanding the issues, challenges and opportunities around developing consistency of reporting against the standards within your staff. This is a day where we take you through the Professional Development you need to do with your teachers.

Date: Tuesday 27th of April 2010

Venue: Baycourt Centre, Tauranga

Professor John Hattie, Debra Masters and I will be there to discuss the challenges and opportunities with you as you develop your understanding further. Our focus on National Standards is around moderation and how to achieve this well in your school. You will leave the seminar confident in your next steps as a school.

This is a must-do workshop for school leaders, leaders of curriculum and assessment and classroom teachers as we are all grappling with the National Standards. I have taken the liberty of including the flier and booking form for your perusal. If you would like to secure a place on this course please complete the registrations and return to us here as soon as possible as numbers are limited.

Kind regards

Julie Schumacher

I’m sure Visible Learning has had its fairly well attended courses and they’ve been useful enough for those who have turned up, and the last week of term is not a great time for a seminar. That said, principals and teachers seem to be waking up to John Hattie’s trickiness and message emptiness. They have been taken aback that the prime minister could say Hattie gave him the idea of national standards (really a load of cobblers – national standards were always going to be a stunt National couldn’t resist pulling); and bemused by the way Hattie has supported, then opposed, then supported national standards. Above all, they are waking up to the idea that Hattie is only for national standards when they are his national standards not anyone else’s: in other words, that they are asTTle and Visible Learning.

Though I see some value in asTTLe, I don’t want to see it too embedded in national standards and our system. I don’t want asTTle to become the standard for national standards.

Anyway, you know asTTle well enough by now, so I’m encouraging schools give the Visible Learning seminars the cold shoulder.

To encourage you in this cold shouldering I want to ask a question: Is the Debra Masters referred to in the Flyer, the same one who contributed a disagreeable article to the New Zealand Principal (November 2009, Volume 24, No. 4)?

In choosing the title, ‘National Standards – The Road Well Travelled’, this Debra Masters is saying that if we don’t follow her advice it will be a road that has not only taken us to national standards but will also take us to national testing.

This Debra Masters declares that even though we were given every encouragement to get assessment right, we failed to shape up; and if we don’t shape up on national standards we will, in turn, have to do national testing.

So national standards are our fault, and if we don’t pull our socks up it will be our fault if we have to do national testing.

Now that I check the end of the article, I find that the Debra Masters who is part of Visible Learning is, indeed, the same one who wrote the article. Oh dear! The teachers of Tauranga and environs look as though they may have a fair bit to answer for. By not supporting the seminar they may, unwittingly, have taken a decisive step toward national testing. And if they had happened to have read this Debra Masters’ article beforehand, it would have been wittingly, making their lack of support the height of irresponsibility.

Debra Masters of Visible Learning says in her article that national standards are a journey it would have been better never to have begun, which is strange, because Hattie, the inspiration for Visible Learning, is also the inspiration for national standards (according to the prime minister).

How serendipitous the coincidence between attending the seminars and avoiding national testing. If we’d known this before, we’d have packed the seminars to the rafters. And the government would have had no alternative but to say schools are doing so marvellously there’s no need for national standards.

On what piece of evidence does this article by Debra Masters turn? (In the boundless ambitions of the John Hattie really, but we won’t go there to any marked extent because that is a road well travelled on this web site.) Why, of course, on the now infamous quote from the 2007 review office report which was transformed into big lie in a little footnote in a National Party pamphlet and ended up as another big lie, but this time in a bigger context, the national standards’ legislation. The big lie that both Stoop and Sewell knew was a big lie and did nothing about. The big lie that is part of stable of big lies, the minister regularly puts into service for her propaganda campaign.

Yes – Debra Masters is into it boots and all.

‘We had the tools and we had the professional development support,’ she says in know-all tone, no doubt referring to asTTle and other wonderful services provided by the University of Auckland.

Yes, we had it all but we blew it.

‘… it seems that we did not make the changes fast enough,’ she taunts. (Given the context, the continual use of the inclusive ‘we’ becomes irksome.)

She then sets out for our edification and her asTTle promotion, the quote from the review office report in question.

‘In about half the schools (52 percent), the teachers used assessment information to inform their teaching and learning programmes. Less than half the schools (44 percent) used worthwhile information …’ and so on, and so on.

Unfortunately for Debra Masters, in the very next sentence in the report and throughout it, but not referred to in the various versions of the big lie, including, of course Debra Masters’, a breathtaking contrast:

‘Figure 5 shows that over 90 percent of primary schools were able to demonstrate their students’ achievements in the curriculum areas of English and mathematics …’

‘Figure 6 shows 88% of primary schools were effective at demonstrating progress in English and 82% in mathematics.

‘Almost all primary schools had made literacy and numeracy key learning priorities … in most schools the teachers had built a shared understanding of how, when and why to measure student achievement in these areas’.

‘Teachers also used a wide range of assessment tools to compare their students’ achievements with national standards.’

And so on, and so on.

In other words, schools were doing outstandingly well in literacy and numeracy.

The quote was a serious distortion to begin with as it was based on averaged figures for all curriculum activity like health, social studies, and physical education, which schools do not assess so intensively, for which assessment tools are not available, and for which teachers produce qualitative information not quantitative – information not really rated by the review office.

The focus for the National Party pamphlet, the legislation, and Debra Masters’ article, was on literacy and numeracy for which specific figures were available in the report but not used.

So Debra Masters’ argument is in tatters: We deserve an apology.

Not likely.

She mocks a supposed complacency: ‘So if we are doing so well, then why are we now introducing national standards?’

She rubs it in: ‘This report [referring to the review office report] hastened our road to national standards.’

She advocates the fantasy of exact next step teaching as though it’s a given and realisable, and asks accusingly: ‘Do they know their exact next steps?’

She employs the usual behaviour of the direct teaching advocates of leavening pedagogical rigidity with apparent idealism, in this case, referring to the need for children to be ‘involved in their learning’ – conjuring up the idea of a classroom of considerable democracy, another fantasy though. When the words are examined carefully they mean nothing – a post-modernist trick. How can children not be involved in their learning?

She refers to one part of the new curriculum’s description of assessment (the review office part) but not to the other part (second column, p. 39, last paragraphs – the Lester Flockton, holistic part).

She charges us with having failed to live up to the expectations of the National Assessment Strategy which she states ‘was founded on the philosophy of formative assessment or assessment for learning.’ The italics are hers.

Well you fell on your face didn’t you miss smarty pants?

But by now, there’s no stopping her.

‘We all know schools that are on-board with the latest theories and programmes, and things are really humming. And we all know schools where things are not so rosy.’

Actually, like me dear reader, you may not be as confident as Debra Masters in being able to identify those schools that are humming or languidly pallid. Neither are we sure that latest theories or programmes have much to do with educational intensity or hue.

‘There were a myriad of professional development initiatives out there for schools to take advantage of, but schools struggled to know which ones were priorities for their schools …’

I’m not surprised if such a vast number were on offer. Doesn’t it make you a tad suspicious Debra that a ‘myriad’ of initiatives were available? Do you think that this could indicate there’s something out of joint here? Do you think the myriad might have been a mirage?

In referring to national testing, she spares us nothing, telling of ‘horror stories from the USA and the UK’, concluding with, ‘we have evidence that this testing pathway might be the road to disaster.’

From on high she announces that ‘If we do not get it right and achievement does not improve, you can be sure that we will get national tests as well. This is what happened in other countries who first introduced national standards …’ Exactly.

‘Near enough is not good enough,’ she reminisces. ‘I have a vivid memory of a conversation I had with a colleague in my first year of teaching. I was anxious about an aspect of my classroom practice and was seeking advice. His sage words were “Never mind, in a 100 years we’ll all be dead and what will it matter?” I was pretty sure at the time it did matter and I still believe it does.’

Well, who knows, the advice might well have been sage. Horses for courses, as they say. The thing about visible learning is that because it is visible it is measurable, far more easily controlled than invisible learning (the affective and the more complex cognitive), it is all much tidier, making it attractive to certain personality types.

Mind you, when it comes to quoting from reports to back up arguments (and vocational self-interest), perhaps, her adage ‘near enough is not good enough’ might have been a good one to have acted on.

Anyway, there follows a number of a number of paragraphs that are awash with cute phrases, jargon, and vagueness. But don’t be lulled, she is ranging.

‘Getting the water to the end of the furrow begins with teachers reconceptualising what they are doing in the classroom,’

‘Effective professional development and support life rafts should work with teachers to enable them to understand the key philosophical understandings behind our new curriculum …’

‘What will it look like when students take ownership of their learning …?’

‘How many schools have unpacked this page [p. 35] …?’

‘How many schools have unpacked [p. 41] … as part of their professional learning?’

She says we have to show ‘whether or not we are making a difference to student achievement.’

She unleashes: ‘If we do not make the difference, the consequences may be dire.’

She reloads: ‘To avoid national testing, we need to make sure that national standards are successful. We need to make sure that schools are using achievement information to inform their teaching and learning, and that there is growth in student achievement.

Then unleashes again: ‘National testing may be just a whisper away and through your knowledge, leadership, and influence, you have the power to avoid it.’

Debra Masters, for Visible Learning commercial ends, describes a devastating situation if national testing comes in. But you can be assured, that if and when it does, Debra Masters, John Hattie, Helen Timperley, Visible Learning, and Auckland University will not only be lining up behind it, they will be in the forefront of its development. Of course, it won’t be put forward as national testing, in the same way as our national standards are described as not really being national standards.

The main point is this: when the road trip at some time in the future extends to national testing, Debra Masters won’t have too many changes to make to this article to once again put the blame on to teachers, threatening them to either comply with national testing (and, of course, attend Visible Learning seminars) or face an even more extreme form of education extremism. And not too many changes for Hattie either. After all, it will be asTTle that will be developed into a national test when national standards fail.

In just such ways, are the ideals of our education system, and the welfare of teachers and children, trampled on.


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