National testing, and what Tolley, Key, and National have said: it is Testgate

The main purpose of this posting is to set out some of the key quotes (excuse the pun) made by Anne Tolley and John Key about their fervent commitment to national standards and their aversion to national testing.

Two key quotes:

John Key, speech, 2 April, 2007: ‘This is not “School C for six year olds” as some people put it. It is not anything close to this. There will be no national exams for primary school kids. That is not our policy and it is not on our agenda.’

‘The government won’t choose which test is best for your school or your child.’ 

Anne Tolley, Southland Times: ‘We all know, from overseas experience, that national testing will not achieve a lift in student achievement. We have made sure National Standards have not gone down this path, and have learned from the mistakes made overseas.’

My overall aim is to get Tolley and Key to back down over the move to testing – this cannot be done openly for the simple reason that the move to testing is one that is but isn’t (acknowledged).

If the back down that isn’t occurred, then, in the hiatus of the hiatus that isn’t, and teachers were proved right about national standards, then they might be seen as being right about a good deal more. This could serve as an encouragement to Key as a wheeler and dealer to go back to the drawing board with the teacher organisations and for school standards to be adopted as official policy.

It is important to state here that national standards not working should not divert our attention from the utter undesirability of high stakes’ testing in whatever form.

Tolley, with Key’s active support and John Hattie’s connivance, made the decision some months ago to switch from national standards to national testing. Hattie had been working on such a plan before he left for Melbourne. I want to stress that the plan is a form of national testing which increases the deniability characteristics of the move to national testing.

Tolley’s office has been in a considerable flap ever since the story broke with the two postings: ‘Government tender for rubrics is national testing and Hattie in disguise’, and ‘Courage to seek assurances on national testing needed’. Readers are urged to read these.

The decision, however, has now been made in Tolley’s office to tough it out. There is confidence the media can be fobbed off with the defences that had been set up to protect the real purposes of the rubrics’ tender and the NZCER year 1 and 2 asTTle writing revisions.

As part of the outer line of those defences the government is going to act on statutory interventions during the election campaign, the original date was 21 November, though I cannot confirm that particular timing is being held to. Demonising teacher organisations and teachers, mixed with condescension and kitsch to teachers in general, will imbue the government’s tone. The government’s plan is to establish the environment which, when the back down occurs, will be blamed on teachers.

But the central distractor will be a policy introduced from America and proselytised by Hattie of boards of educators being set up to create a system to give extra credentials to teachers who reach ‘certain standards’ which will place them at an advantage for extra pay. The system will be voluntary and the membership of the boards will be claimed as being broadly representative but, in fact, be a further way to standardise Hattie-style measurement obsessed, step-by-step classroom teaching –in other words, a centralised and official style of teaching. The authenticity of such board credentialism will, of course, be buttressed by rubbish evidence-based research, and a rubbish board appointment system – a system characterised by the National Standards Sector Advisory Group (NSSAG).

Two networkonnet readers have contributed sets of quotes, one remains anonymous, the other is Bill Courtney, the Wellington businessman and former board of trustees’ member, who has been a brave and tireless advocate for an education system based on valuing variety.

First, the anonymous source:

Solemn promises made by the minister about national testing:

Anne Tolley: ‘The standards established are to be used in schools by 2010. They would not be accompanied by national testing, Mrs Tolley said.’ Source: Talks on education standards to start in May, Dominion Post, April 4, 2009

‘National standards do not mean standardised national testing, they are about consistent assessment throughout the country,’ Mrs Tolley said. Source: Tolley snaps at principals

Anne Tolley: ‘They say that similar schemes have not worked overseas. That is exactly why we are not introducing the kind of national testing seen in the United States and England. National standards are very different …’

Source:  Sorting out the facts from the fiction about national standards


Anne Tolley: ‘We all know, from overseas experience, that national testing will not achieve a lift in student achievement. We have made sure that National Standards have not gone down this path, and have learned from the mistakes made overseas,’ she said.

Source:  Info evening or negative campaign?

Anne Tolley: ‘All students learn in different ways which is why we have deliberately not introduced a national test.’

Source: By setting clear, achievable goals we can lift student achievement

Second, Bill Courtney:

John Key speech, 2 April, 2007:

“We will require all primary schools to use assessment programmes that compare the progress of their students with other students right across the country.  The government won’t choose which test is best for your school or your child.”

“This is not ‘School C for six year olds’ as some people put it.  It is not anything close to this.  There will be no national exams for primary school kids.  That is not our policy and it is not on our agenda.”

“I am open to your ideas and I want to work with the people who know our education system best and who put their best into it.”

National Party Manifesto Statement, 2008 Election:

“How is this different from national testing?  We won’t require schools to use one government-approved test.  Instead, schools will choose from a range of tests and integrate those tests into their teaching.”

“Countries like the UK and the US have gone as far as to set universal national tests; we don’t think that’s necessary in New Zealand.”

Education Policy: Crusade for Literacy and Numeracy, National Party, 2008 Election:

“Schools will choose from a range of tests, and there won’t be national exams.”

National Standards Factsheet: Consultation on National Standards Analysis:

“Assessment against National Standards will not rely on any one test or assessment tool.  Teachers and schools will decide the mix of assessment information to gather that best suits their context and needs, and enables good decision making about each student’s learning and their teaching programme.”

Anne Tolley opinion piece, Dominion Post, November 2009:

“They [opponents] say that similar schemes have not worked overseas.  That is exactly why we are not introducing the kind of national testing seen in the United States and England.  National Standards are very different and the rest of the world is looking to New Zealand and our unique approach to increasing pupil achievement.”

“Results being used to give performance pay to teachers?  Rubbish.”

“League tables? Never on the agenda, but we can’t stop parents, school boards and the ministry getting the information they need on pupils’ progress.”

“Those who have spoken out against the standards will continue to do so.  By all means, have your say.  But please get your facts straight and stop trying to mislead parents.”

Anne Tolley letter to BoT Chairs, December 2009:

“We are well aware of what has happened overseas and we are well aware that league tables do not promote improved student outcomes.  This government will not be publishing league tables.”

Anne Tolley letter to Bill Courtney, 10 March, 2010:

“The introduction of National Standards is, and will continue to be, about using meaningful information to improve the educational experiences of our students and raise achievement.  Clearly, if this is to be achieved, some data needs to be collected to enable school and system review.  On the other hand, I am very much aware that aggregated data can potentially be accessed and used in unintended ways and, if used to make simplistic comparisons between schools in the form of league tables, can be misleading and detract from the overarching goal of promoting achievement.

“I acknowledge the concerns of the education sector about how data from the standards might be used.  In response, I am working with those groups to determine the most effective ways of protecting the data and ensuring it is used for positive purposes such as school review and system improvement.  As the first school-wide collection of data is not required before 2011, there is time to sort out these important questions.”

Anne Tolley opinion piece, Dominion Post, 27 September, 2010:

“All students learn in different ways which is why we have deliberately not introduced a national test.  Whether a child passes a test or not at a particular time provides only a limited amount of information about their capabilities.  Progress against National Standards is measured using a broad range of assessment tools, plus the professional judgements of teachers throughout the year.”

Anne Tolley letter to Peter Dunne, 2 September, 2010:

“Our approach to National Standards is unique compared to the use of National Standards in other countries….”

“There will not be a trial period for National Standards.  Both local and international evidence tells us what is needed to make the standards work.”

“I am well aware of the pitfalls experienced by other countries with the introduction of standards systems.  International literature is very rarely critical of educational standards themselves.  However, it is often highly critical of inappropriate use of high-stakes testing and accountability mechanisms.  We have chosen to pursue a very different model for National Standards in New Zealand because of this.”

“In New Zealand, there is a deliberate focus on the use of professional teacher judgment underpinned by assessment-for-learning principles rather than a narrow testing regime.”

“I share the concerns regarding the potential for adverse effects resulting from misuse of aggregated National Standards achievement data.  International evidence has clearly shown the danger of using achievement information as a proxy for school or teacher quality.  I am keen to ensure that New Zealand schools continue to be evaluated on the basis of all that they do for their students, not performance in relation to the standards alone.  The Education Review Office will continue to consider a broad range of factors that affect student outcomes when evaluating schools.”

Anne Tolley letter to Bill Courtney, 16 December, 2010:

“I have deferred the reporting to the community and the Ministry of Education through annual reports until 2012 to allow us to work through any issues with the use of data collected.  My intention is for this time to be used to develop a solution with the sector that minimises potential misuse of data, but still allows its use for school self-review and system improvement.”

NZ Govt Budget Statement, May 2011:

“Develop a framework to ensure consistency of teachers’ judgments against National Standards; operating funding allocation of $4.584m and capital funding allocation of $5.093m over the period to 2014/15.”

Anyone wanting soured identification for these quotes should e-mail:

A significant point to note from Bill Courtney’s listing is that number of quotes from Tolley and Key avowing fervent commitment to national standards and aversion to national standards fell away considerably in 2011.

We most not let Tolley and National get away scot-free with this issue. There is no way, during an election campaign, such a dissembling minister and government will be pinned on this one, but it will be a failure on our part if she is not harried.

A section from Bill Courtney’s accompanying letter to his selection of quotes is used to conclude the posting:

‘I was impressed with the piece you put out about Karen Sewell and Mary Chamberlain’s options approach with Tolley after the election.  It strikes a chord with an Official Information Request that I put to Chamberlain when I wanted to review the “briefing papers” that were given to the teams that developed the standards.  Her official response was that no such papers existed, as the teams were only ever briefed orally. This would be consistent with Sewell and Chamberlain selling her the approach that they thought would go down best with the teachers, but with Tolley not really understanding it. I remember the question from the floor at the Silverstream meeting in June 2009, during the “consultation”, when someone said, ‘Are these standards minimums, benchmarks, or aspirational?”  Tolley replied: “You tell me, you’re the professionals.” ’

‘What that highlighted from the outset, was how the development of this elaborate system never had any real policy base, as the first aim of sound policy development is to be able to clearly articulate the answers to the fundamental questions: What problem are you solving?  What is the cause of the problem?  How will your system act directly on the cause and bring about a different outcome?’

‘I also recommend that you re-read Chapter 2 of Diane Ravitch’s book before you go to print.  The title of Chapter 2 is: “Hijacked!  How the Standards Movement turned into the Testing Movement.” The parallels are clear with what is happening here. Keep hammering the theme about how these regimes have gone wrong overseas, regardless of the fact that they set out with the very best of intentions.’

Will do Bill – and well done, you’re a hero, one of the many who have stood tall during this sad debacle.

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