There is Aaron Gilmore then there is NZCER

I am going to mainly ignore the sad spectacle of Warwick Elley’s anodyne letter to the NZ Listener (30March. 2013): a letter admitting only minor discrepancies in the STAR tests.

You see, in respect to the STAR tests, I have listened to teachers, I have visited their schools, I have seen the STAR results over time: these schools have no-bullshit, highly experienced principals – they are not wrong. The unwillingness of NZCER to publically admit error, while doing so privately, is arrogance.

A senior member of NZCER admitted to me that all groups who have some kind of contractual relationship with the government have to go along with government policy. I fully understand, but I don’t care about what I fully understand. I know if the NZCER took a consistently independent line it would be dismantled. I fully understand, but I don’t care. I would be truly sorry to see NZCER gone, but I don’t care. You see, I care for teachers and children above everything else. Surely that’s no bad thing.

This might read melodramatically and self-servingly, but I don’t care. I fully understand why the head of NZCER joined with Judith Aitken and others to produce a report on the Teachers Council which, when reported, will be a perfect expression of provider capture, but I don’t care about what I fully understand. I fully understand why NZCER researchers are all over PaCT and its terrible national standards ramifications for teachers and children, but I don’t care. I fully understand why our self-declared only independent research entity is into the development of national standards boots and all, but I don’t care.

(Just a side issue: Warwick Elley is adamantly opposed to national standards, so why doesn’t he, in a possibly very effective gesture, ask that STAR not be used to inform national standards? They could still be used for diagnostic purposes.)

I expect the head of NZCER to care about NZCER; I care about NZCER too, but in a different way and priority. She can do as she thinks is right, but she shouldn’t be hurt or mystified at me doing what I think is right. And, after all, it’s just me, no-one else is criticising NZCER. She and her organisation ought to be able to handle it.

But let’s bring down my expectation of NZCER down to scale.

Let’s bring it down to one year: 2012, edging into 2013.

Let’s bring it down to Bruce Crawford at HikurangiSchool, one of many principals I have talked to, but who happened to be the first. A principal who likes the STAR test, has done it for many years, knows it inside out.

Could the NZCER do the right thing here? Let me explain.

The following is unchallengeable, confirmed by head office people who rang him and one who travelled to Hikurangi.

  1. When, in 2012, Bruce Crawford administered the end of year STAR test in the decile one school, the children scored 91% at or above the expected level.
  2. On my writing a posting about this he was rung and he was visited by an NZCER person: there was an unqualified acknowledgement that the bell curve was utterly out of shape at the lower levels
  3. He saw the bell curve utterly out of shape
  4. There was an unqualified acknowledgement that there was very spotty communication to schools about this
  5. When he asked why, there was embarrassment (now there are mealy-mouthed references to the need for communicating better, as if merely a communication matter)
  6. All the official people he spoke to tried strenuously to shift the conversation to using next year’s marking schedule and to scaling and tracking (stanines and bell curves were referred to as quaint)
  7. There was no attempt to say the test error was insignificant.

Now I could go on to say that most principals I spoke to considered scaling an invitation to the Wild West and using next year’s marking schedule Mickey Mouse? But I don’t want to go on, I want to stay where we are, 2012, edging into 2013.

It is the implications of these 2012 results for an inflation of reading national standards in 2013 that is my interest.

This is the challenge for NZCER. Does it have the moral strength, the sense of being able to do the right thing, to put out a release about this?

The results for reading, writing, and mathematics come out in national form at the end of May; the ministry with its e-asTTle writing is about to have its house of cards collapse – can NZCER do the right thing?

This is a moral and ethical matter.

NZCER declares itself to be New Zealand’s only independent research agency, with a proud history; that independence, I suggest is being compromised, that history besmirched.

I want to put it like this: the 2012 STAR results have played a cruel trick on lower performing children (these children are in the stanines most subject to inflation in the end of year test), the very children who are most vulnerable, who are most in need of genuine help.

Let’s imagine the inflated results coming out and the government saying that the national standards are working for these children; are right for them; are the silver bullet.

Think of the children who are being moved out of the special education category as a result of the inflation in both STAR and NZCER.

And yet we know, and NZCER knows, it got it wrong, then responded in a self-servingly confused manner.

That is the moral and ethical challenge for NZCER.

It is up to NZCER: is NZCER willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable children in our education system to a corporate cover-up?

The whole world is watching.

A brave and honest admission might well be the beginning of a wider education regeneration.

Or is NZCER going to be the Aaron Gilmore of New Zealand education?

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