Will you be there? The Dominion, Hartevelt, and league tables

We said national standards would harm children’s learning.

They wouldn’t listen.

Or didn’t care.

John Key said let them eat national standards.

That will be better for them than decent wages, housing, health.

National standards as a cure for poverty.

We’ll do nothing, or worse – meanwhile

Let them do national standards.

And now it has come to this.

Primary school education shifted on its axis.

A great harm inflicted

League tables yellow pressed.

We knew it was coming, but of no comfort.

Something like a death.

Tolley promised no league tables.

Key promised any release, if they ever occurred,

Would be surrounded by safeguards.

Not a skerrick prime minister.

While you Laurel and jape

A bloody slather.

None of the safeguards occurring in Australia

Mind you, not that these really matter:

But reveals the nature of you and your heartless government.

John Hartevelt of the Dominion sets out to justify:

Led by journalists from the beginning.

He lies.

The real beginning?

The editor of course.

Prose of mouth-frothing contempt for public schools.

On the morning after National’s re-election

The editor mocked,

Then, in effect, said bear the pain you losers.

Hartevelt is right, though, not a business decision,

But neither is it one of freedom

As he claims.

It is an ideological one taken above the journalists.

Harm the teachers.

Harm public schools.

And Hartevelt’s justification for publishing: ‘We cannot lose faith in our readers so much that we feel we have to censor them from information just because it is challenging.’

A Dominion journalist concerned with censoring education information.

Is this a tragic, cosmic joke?

A journalist expressing trust in readers’ judgement.

God in heaven above!

Newspapers, themselves, have behaved like bloody idiots

Pigs in muck

In just the one day.

And who is taking the burden of the risk in the trusting?

The primary school children of New Zealand.

177 academic researchers declared league tables harmful to children’s learning.

But Hartevelt declares it a matter of freedom.

One community institution intruding exploitively into another: the media into public schools.

If it was royal breasts, an outcry;

For public schools and children, it is freedom.

The exercise of freedom at the cost of innocent others.

I saw the picture and the list:

A white flight school lording it,

The unfairly fled school hurting, diminished.

Dog eat dog.

Education for the 21st century.

What is best for children?

Ever asked?

No – just a resort to a spurious (in the context) abstract concept.

It was teachers he was after.

Damaging them.

The children contingent.

Will you be there to enrich the withered curriculum?

Will you be there to prevent an education

For the less able, devoid of heart and cognitive challenge?

Drill and kill?

Will you be there to engage the disengaged?

Will you be there to protect the low decile school?

(A high price for a Maori girl’s trip to Waitangi, wouldn’t you say?)

Will you be there to receive the unwanted?

Will you be there to provide hope for the failure at six?

Will you be there to reduce the ghetto?

Will you be there to take the children in your arms?

In publishing league tables, the medium is the message.

Curriculum areas selected for attention.

Learning is that which is measurable.

Forget creativity, imagination, and cognitive flexibility

Children’s learning expressed in the labelling of children.

It doesn’t matter if the labelling is inaccurate (which it is)

Labelling is the message.

Labelling set out for school comparison.

Relationship between teacher and child as something rawly public.

Teacher motivation compulsion, competition, and fear.

Power to the politicians and the bureaucrats.

This is education for the 21st century.

Before the reading

The key messages have already been communicated by the medium.

How noble of Hartevelt to declare trust in the reader.

No cost to him,

Or risk of it.

In complete denial of historical experience.

Perpetrates the dreadful act,

Then tries to out the spot.

It won’t be outed: bear the shame.

Intrusion between teacher and child.

The struggling child to struggle more.

The brilliant child blighted in the act.

Alien concept

On the indigenous and beautiful.

Public education reduced

In the name of freedom.

But you won’t be there.


Where the bloody hell are you?

Just what to do about David Shearer?

Anyone with any feeling for the liberal traditions of New Zealand such as they are, are in a quandary about David Shearer. We recognise the huge importance of the ‘left’ winning the next election, but are acutely aware of Labour and Shearer continuing to not ‘get it’, and failing us.

In between the 30 second television bits that occur, say, three times a week, so obviously rehearsed, where the bloody hell are you?

What do you do? Who are you meeting with? Are you surfing? Given all the pain we’re feeling do you know how you come across David? That you don’t care a damn; that you cannot bestir yourself enough to make your mark; that you are not willing to risk making a mistake because you don’t care enough; that you don’t feel it enough to be willing to go for it. You come across as peevish, because the only time you have displayed any sustained passion was when you fought for your job.

My God, if I was your adviser I’d give you a kick up the jacksy and get you out there to respond from the heart, from your feelings. Yes– all right, guided by some political policy guidelines, but always with the sense of danger that you could go beyond them, to be your own man.

Get out your pistol and charge into the tent and rescue us David.

You are a possum in the daze of the political spotlight.

You don’t come across as sympathetic David?

You and your advisers, both the last group, and your present one, have got it wrong on policy in many respects, and where you have got it right, you just aren’t creating a buzz.

There is terrific scope for policies on regenerating provincial New Zealand: ‘My plans for provincial New Zealand.’

Heartland New Zealand. Great!

I know you think you are doing it, but it’s all in your mind.

‘My plans for boosting manufacturing.’

Tax credits, research, capital gains tax, development funds, subtle forms of protection. (Why not? Where else can farm products be bought?)


But get out there.

Create excitement. Let the critics criticise. It’s publicity man: know what that is? To hell with the critics – go to the people.

For good or ill, people love seeing their leaders being themselves.

In many respects you and your advisers are First World War generals fighting the next war on lessons learnt from the last.

OK, agreed – in realpolitik, Labour can’t overtly base so much on the poor; for one thing they are so bogged down in poverty that they don’t even get out to vote. (But alleviating poverty will be at least a central implied policy.)

Policy has to be made exciting – and it’s excitement and hope you must generate. The excitement and hope you generate at the moment wouldn’t recharge a torch battery.

Yes – elections are won or lost in New Zealand in the mortgage belt (you’ve got that right). But the greatest concern in the mortgage belt is middle-class unemployment, especially the prospects for their children. Develop schemes for employing the young – all sorts of schemes such as the arts; protecting the environment; generous and flexible and paid retraining schemes; provincial regeneration; manufacturing policy; also, restricting immigration. Say you care.

I still remember Norman Kirk visiting an ohu in the 70s, and me saying wow! He’s a real  New Zealander.

Forming a policy based on developing a broad-based national identity communicates a range of exciting and interesting possibilities. It would allow a whole range of policies to cohere: heartland; manufacturing; arts; literature; sport; employment; education; cultural features; environment; foreign relations; economic treaties; railways; and media ownership.

In the last election, education and teachers were only helpful in election terms as a source of attack – that has changed.

A few months ago you delivered a speech about education that was better than any delivered by Peter Fraser and, following it, Labour’s rating went up, but since then absolutely zilch from you. You bloody fools, you were onto a winner, but didn’t realise it, and you became the invisible man again. You and your advisers were back in the last election, thinking education didn’t rate. What does your lack of follow-up communicate? In my view, that someone else wrote it and you delivered it, but you didn’t believe in it.

For goodness sake David learn to go for it, this is the next election, you are in Opposition, and things are different.

Why didn’t you stand in Christchurch and say all the policies will be reviewed when I am prime minister? Say you are going to return education to communities and away from government cliques.

Talk about what education can do for children, not the economy: that education is not a silver bullet for the economy, economic decisions are the silver bullet for the economy, education is the silver bullet for the well-being and satisfying lives of children.

This is an arrogant, dishonest, do-nothing constructive government, a government of sleight of hand. There is so much you could campaign on.

If you really wanted to show you care you would be down in Hamilton tomorrow expressing outrage at the possibility of the new schools at Rototuna being charter schools. No, Chris Hipkins won’t do; he’s all right but he’s not the leader of a political party trying to establish a prime minister-in-waiting identity.

There was no mandate for charter schools.

 There is no call for charter schools.

 State schools are not for profit.

 They said charter schools were for Decile one children.

 This is a government of arrogance and deceit.

 A Labour government will not countenance charter school.

 They are wrong and there is no future in them.

 Labour will rip up any agreements for charter schools.

Also, that intermediate schools are iconic New Zealand.

Wow! you would light up Hamilton and a good part of the country.

In the middle of writing this, my grandchildren insisted I take them on the Karapiro cycle-way and teach them how to ride or be more confident in their riding, if you showed half the intensity, passion and noisiness that was displayed along the otherwise quiet banks of the Waikato, David, you’d be almost there.

But, as it is, we are left to ask, and with increasing vehemence and distress: Where the bloody hell are you?

Tracey Martin asks the questions and Catherine writes in the Listener


Tracey Martin of New Zealand First did it for children in Question Time yesterday. Labour couldn’t raise the interest, nor could the Greens. As I said in an earlier posting, if the position was reversed, National would have been having a ball. (Is the shared education role working for the Greens?) The teacher organisations, I think, felt out of their depth. As well, no time to be getting off-side with the minister. The point is, it never is. Also, they were possibly thinking about PaCT. But as I said earlier, PaCT is just national standards in another and more destructive form. National Radio sadly no-where to be seen on this one. For all of them, national standards are probably yesterday’s issue. Well it isn’t for teachers and children.

All of them except Tracey Martin in the House, and Catherine Woulfe in the Listener.

 This friendly little introduction is to give the link for Tracey Martin asking her four questions (that was all she was allowed). Hekia Parata was away so Nikki Kaye stumbled about. Absolute rubbish, of course.

As well, this is a sweetener for a posting using OIA material. The OIA material has ministry people talking about e-asTTle and, in the process, unintentionally landing huge blows on the old e-asTTle, the new e-sTTle, the so-called corrected e-asTTle, and by inference rubrics, PaCT, and national standards.

This posting will be up either Thursday or Friday. Please make sure it is widely read.

It absolutely rubbishes Kaye’s rubbish.

As most people know, the ministry went online in the holidays and moved all e-asTTle marks down without informing schools. It doesn’t show in the House but Kaye was flustered when Tracey produced a letter from a school demonstrating that.

I loved it when Tracey asked if the government was going to pull national standards because of the shambles in writing and reading (STAR). Way to go!

I’m not convinced the government won’t get up to dirty tricks with the results: they were supposed to be out this week, but they have been delayed at least 10 days. They have already altered results without authority, why not again?

Two things I want to establish, though, are that neither the grossly inflated marks for e-asTTle nor the solidly inflated for STAR were a conspiracy: they were both, successively, glorious ministry and NZCER cock-ups. The other is how decent, concerned, and honest the ministry people were in discussing e-asTTle. You couldn’t help but like them.

There is no doubt Parata is getting ready for a party with the results, which if she is allowed to get away will cement NS in place.

So listen to the Tracey Martin link, and get ready for the OIA posting. http://inthehouse.co.nz/node/18927

All the best


To Tracey, Chris, Phil, Judith, and Catherine: they are making fools of you

This posting has the smoking gun proving the potential corruption of 80,000 e-asTTle results, and repeats the information regarding the potential corruption of the STAR results of even more children. I estimate the inflation in e-asTTle as up to 20% for less able children and, for STAR, up to 15% for less able children. The effect in both cases slides as deciles rise. The absurdity of this can be gauged when the results from NAPLAN from Australia are compared: after five years and $(NZ)750 million the improvement after all that drilling and test practising is 0.37.

Also in this posting is a letter from one of our top principals. It is written with the ministry e-asTTle people actually in the school and his assessment programme in writing collapsing around him. This is real time assessment horror for a wonderful principal. It was a letter written to me not with the idea of being published: a raw and honest expression.

My sources within the ministry are telling me the ministry and NZCER can hardly believe their luck in getting away with it. They haven’t necessarily, but it will take Tracey, Chris, Phil, Judith, or Catherine, to pluck up the courage and do something. Mark my words if teachers were in a similar situation, and Labour in power, National would be taking schools or Labour apart. Nothing from NZEI. I have written recently how NZEI needs a curriculum desk and someone from the executive to be available immediately to speak out even if the matter is subsequently handed over to the president. The new president has acted in an assured way, but perhaps she lacks the confidence to act on a curriculum matter.  Phil Harding has come across very well in the media over Christchurch and Novopay but his instincts are conservative and the latest NZPF executive election has resulted in a more conservative committee. I don’t think we can expect too much there on national standards, even though it also concerns undermining PaCT which I know NZPF is working on, appraisal, league tables, and landing a moderate size hit on Parata.  Chris Hipkins is a possibility. He put out a media release in response to theListener article but, while one admires his enthusiasm, I wonder about his depth of visceral response to push on and right injustice. Catherine Delahunty can express her ideas in writing very delicately, but can she drive an issue, perhaps. Tracey Martin from New Zealand First is my big hope. She is a real performer who has a very good understanding of school education, but does she have the nerve of her boss? I’d say, yes, but tempered by more judgement.

[So far, NZEI has put out a media release under the care of Louise Green; it is a fairly quiet one but welcome all the same. NZPF has made a passing reference to it in relation to PaCT, but seems to have decided it wants to fight PaCT some time in the future. Parliament reconvenes next week so we will see what that brings]

80,000 students sat e-asTTle and virtually all those e-asTTle marks are corrupted.

STAR is more difficult to assess in numbers. Comfortably over half of New Zealand schools – 1200 – use STAR. Surely we are talking about well over a 100,000 children. One could say nearly all the students who sat STAR either had their marks corrupted or their marks set aside as invalid by the schools administering the tests. The biggest element of doubt is knowing how NZCER marked the tests of those schools that paid it to do so. Did NZCER try to counter the end-of-year inflation in the tests using its own absurd remedy of using the next year’s marking schedule or not? Schools who paid for the service need to have been told that.

Involved in the issue are not only the schools directly affected by the tests, but also schools who didn’t use the tests and will suffer in comparison.

Before I set out in what I consider a sober manner what has happened with these two tests and how they became corrupted, I want to make clear how serious and significant the matter is.

  1. National standards does not produce quality data, it produces rubbish data, and in the course of producing that rubbish data is turning previously useful sources of data into rubbish data, as well.
  2. There are no standards.
  3. Without a ‘credible’ national standards (and I admit that is oxymoronic), the value-added appraisals to be imposed, will fall apart very early on.
  4. If we don’t challenge the data corruption now, we’ll be at a disadvantage later on.
  5. This is the strategic moment to act: we have high ground and the initiative.
  6. The revision of e-asTTle has been a trial run for PaCT: the outcome a disaster.
  7. Rubrics are education madness.
  8. Prediction: PaCT is going to be the Novopay of national assessment.

I can assure our posting headliners (Tracey, and so on) they won’t be making fools of themselves, both test revisions are a mess – just go at it steadily, don’t try for a king hit.

Now for the (attempted) sober manner (not that easy at 3 a.m.)

First, both developers have admitted results’ inflation: NZCER for STAR by suggesting using the next year’s marking schedule as a corrective and that stanines and the classic bell curve are old hat and scaling and trajectories are the way to go – then lamely saying, also along with stanines; the ministry for e-asTTle in writing (see below) but then tucks away the admission.

That means that both developers were sneaky and covert about it.

Second, both NZCER and ministry failed to honestly and openly inform schools about the serious problems in their tests.

Third, both NZCER and the ministry have claimed they have solved the problem: NZCER hasn’t and won’t until they get the bell curve back in shape; the e-asTTle developers ‘solution’ would actually increase the inflation and make e-asTTle even more unworkable.

Fourth, and this very important not only have the problems not been solved but also none of them really came into play in the period of this round of collecting data for national standards. So even if the problems have been fixed, and they haven’t been, not by a long chalk, none of them did anything to change anything for this round of national standards. This is very important in establishing that nothing credible was done to correct the data inflation in this round.

I don’t want to go over ground carried in earlier postings, but to concentrate on this fourth point.

First to e-asTTle.

After a huge amount of correspondence from schools about the results’ inflation, the ministry broke and acknowledged it.

The example is taken from an-email sent by Cooper Schumann from the ministry to Southland schools with a copy to a Jill (Forgie, I think) also from the ministry who signed it off. It was posted on 9 July, 2012. The purpose was to attend an Impact Day on Monday 12 November in Dunedin. Jill is a senior curriculum adviser at the ministry of education, Christchurch.

The e-mail was three pages long and there at end of it was the acknowledgement.

‘Thank you to those of you who have managed e-asTTle writing. Are you finding that your learners appear to be doing surprisingly well compared to former e-asTTle results? This is because the revised version has been calibrated to more closely relate how the writer would perform in a well supported classroom situation.’

‘If you would like more information and have not yet found this website you might find this link helpful.’

http://e-asttle.tki.org.nz/Teacher-resources  (then to e-asTTle writing tool revised, then FAQ)

If it wasn’t that I feel sorrier for teachers caught up in the nightmare of national standards soon to be made worse by PaCT (which the revised e-asTTle is based on), and value-added appraisals, and all the children of New Zealand having a diminished education – I  could almost feel sorry for these people.

But what a way to announce that a standardised test affecting tens of thousands of our children is an embarrassing and dangerous failure. Some schools are reporting to me that the results’ inflation for lower and middle performing children is in the order of between 15-20%. Yes Jill, some children are, indeed, doing surprisingly well.

But this is the farcical thing. Here we have a large number of schools undertaking intensive and expensive professional development on e-asTTle. Then out of the blue some months later out pop the people in charge of e-asTTle saying, oh by the way, it just happened to slip our minds, but you remember e-asTTle, that revised version we introduced to you, it has been calibrated to something we forgot to tell you about. We slipped up in not telling you that e-asTTLe had fundamentally changed.

Oh come on!

And look at the date of the Impact Day, November 12, so no time for a quick fix.

But it gets worse, there was no quick fix then, and none now. This calibration business, so prominently featured in the Listener article is mainly non-existent, and a good thing too, because it would only make things worse.

Now to use the link provided which only serves to compound the farce.

Here we have all these teachers in schools having gone through the courses, then being delivered the bombshell of the revised e-asTTle having a very different methodology than they were told about – suddenly reading: ‘If you would like more information …’ Of course, you strange people, they would like more information, they are confounded, do you think that vague reference to calibration is sufficient?

And this is when it is just becomes too much. When I went to the link, it was just gobbledegook. It is not about calibration and well supported classrooms. Read for yourself.

 We’ve checked our e-asTTle curriculum levels against the National Standards, and the e-asTTle results are showing much higher levels of achievement. How can this be?

The curriculum levels reported for e-asTTle Writing are based on a standard-setting exercise undertaken to link performance on an e-asTTle assessment with the descriptions of writing competence provided in the Literacy Learning Progressions. The exercise defined an appropriate score range on an e-asTTle assessment for each level of writing competence described by the progressions. A curriculum level of 4A for example means that given 40 minutes to write to a particular prompt under test conditions the student has been able to produce a text of sufficient quality to indicate they have the writing skills and competencies described as appropriate for students working at an advanced stage for Level 4 of the curriculum.

The important point here is that the e-asTTle curriculum level attempts to identify what the student’s performance in the context of an e-asTTle Writing assessment indicates in terms of achievement against curriculum expectations. This means that a student who has been assessed by e-asTTle Writing to be working at a particular curriculum level will not necessarily have produced a piece of writing that looks exactly like a National Standards exemplar. National Standards exemplars illustrate performance where students have been given the opportunity to engage with a writing task in a classroom situation ‘largely by themselves’. An e-asTTle assessment is completed in 40 minutes under test conditions without any teacher or peer feedback, or access to writing aids such as dictionaries.

Figure 1 below shows the distribution of e-asTTle Writing scale scores from all the scripts marked and moderated at each level during the trial of e-asTTle writing. The range of scores is within curriculum level expectations although increasingly fewer students in Years 7 to 10 performed at or above the curriculum levels expected for their year levels.

The tool developers went through a careful standard setting exercise during the trial and the data they have from the trial, illustrated in Figure 1, supports the standards set.

How about this from a senior and highly respected principal, very knowledgeable about testing?



‘I agree with everything in this article (one of the series on the testing scandal). I told the MOE at the launch of NS that there would be no consistency, that pseudo-measurement techniques like script scrutiny and the then assessment maps (that they have now abandoned), and that tests would begin to be dumbed down. Just as the NAPLAN maths tests in Australia only focus on knowledge (unlike our numeracy and strand approaches here), the tests become a political tool to say how well the government is doing. The same is happening in Ontario – where Fullan and his crew are crowing about progress. The dumbing down of tests is a natural progression when a government brings in “standards”.’

‘I have long opposed STAR as a tool to measure kids reading – even the old one was poor. It is not a literacy test as it is too disjointed in deconstructing each aspect of reading into discrete bits. It is hopeless for very able readers as they hit Stanine 9 and stay there without any useful assessment data. Read the latest STAR test – it is a shocker. I have always said if you want to inflate your OTJ use STAR.’

‘And call stanine 4-6 “at” for PAT when you sit two tests at the same level in a year. ‘

‘Unfortunately, not all of our colleagues have the integrity or knowledge to be rigorous in this area.’

‘This morning our writing data using e-asTTle was marked I had feedback from teachers saying it was a crock. I am really angry because we were encouraged to shift to this calibration stuff from our own rigorous one. The explanations I have seen from the MOE include “it’s the instructional level for the next year” and “it is what a child would receive in a well-supported classroom”. I have no idea what those explanations mean.’

‘NZCER are as down as we are and it’s hard to think they are part of this conspiracy, but if this is happening with them, we are all stuffed.’

‘Just as Minister Tolley wouldn’t listen to NZPF or John Faire with our professional misgivings over national standards, we again face a blanket of silence when so many “curriculum delivery pd contracts” depend on the use of these tests. Their legitimacy will only be reinforced by PaCT of which I am deeply suspicious of – if lies are happening with these tests, the integrity of PaCT has to be interrogated.’

‘I appreciate your doggedness and this article helped me from turning loopy for another day.’

Kind regards


If this isn’t one of the contenders for letter of the year, I’ll go ‘he’.

I have two demurs, it has not been a direct conspiracy but about an environment of ideological corruption providing the perfect storm for the test developers to be reckless. (and contributing to that environment the often expressed government disregard for the classic bell curve, and the encouragement to furtively align the tests to PaCT).

I describe what has happened as a fiasco, become a scandal as a result of the lack of honesty and transparency. The cover-up is also an outcome of the ideologically corrupted environment.

My other demur is PaCT needs to be blown sky high, not interrogated.

What has happened with STAR is well canvassed. The two ‘remedies’ were not really applied during the year, mainly because most teachers did not know about them. But they are not remedies, anyway, just cover-up ruses. Using next year’s marking schedule for the end-of- year marking is unsustainable, and asking schools to downgrade stanines, is an absurdity. The NZCER has the distorted bell graph for the results, it has been sighted, and it’s an obscenity.

I have written this through the night, so I’ll leave it there (are they trying to kill me?) It is now up to Tracey, Chris, Phil, Judith, and Catherine, and perhaps you: a branch here and there passing a motion asking that the government halt the processing of national standards data pending an inquiry into two key marker standardised tests: e-asTTle and STAR.

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?

The developers have lost control of the two tests: elaborate cover up

With regard to STAR and e-asTTle there is no doubt that substantial results’ inflation has occurred (see below); behind the ploys and barrage of words by the NZCER and ministry, the acknowledgement is there both in actions and words.

Education in New Zealand today: the organisations do their deceptive moves; the teacher organisations don’t know how to handle an issue in which they need to take the initiative; and academics close up shop – and what doesn’t happen?  Teachers being taken seriously.

The teacher organisations will already have been in touch with NZCER or the ministry or be contemplating it; academics will have rushed to their academic colleagues for reassurance (fluff): except for one exception (NZCER) no one has been in touch with Bruce, or John Carrodus, or anyone else mentioned in my postings or in the Listener article. That is the status of classroom teachers today, debate fodder for others.

I challenge anyone to sit opposite Bruce Crawford of Hikurangi School and prove to him he got it wrong. This is a principal who is very strong on school standards testing. He is a testing whiz. And he won’t be blown over. There was a time, I remind readers, when we were doing a one-two over John Hattie to such an extent that Hattie came all the way to Swann to try to save his professional development programmes in the north. He got short shrift. Last week, Graeme Cosslett of NZCER came to Swann, and his arguments were listened to, but laughed out of court. Bruce’s arguments about STAR and his results are still serenely in place (91% of children at or above in a decidedly Decile 1 school.)

If you start from my initial posting on the matter – ‘Miracle on Swann’ – my first move was to travel north from Cambridge to carefully examine the evidence. I then went home to ponder my next move.

That move was to ring Ivan Snook, emeritus professor education, and to ask him if he would get in touch with his academic colleagues for comment. A week later he rang back and said he was stunned with the absolute silence, the nothingness, except for one instance of hostility.

Then followed my postings in which the results’ inflation for e-asTTle also came to light.

Before I provide, what seems to me, unchallengeable evidence about the two tests having gone wrong, I want to first deal with conspiracy issues. There has definitely been no direction from upper echelon bureaucrats or politicians to the test developers to make the tests easier.

However, there are two matters that I think should be considered as having come into play: The Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT) is being developed and it is to feature individual student trajectories (for value added use in teacher appraisal) and this may be behind the attention to trajectories in the two tests; also writing, in particular has proved a difficulty for assessment in national standards and for PaCT so I think the e-asTTle revision might well have been an attempt to align that test with PaCT. Secondly, it is generally known that the classic bell curve is not in favour with the National government and this might have made the developers careless in their bell curve and stanine work.

The issue of the results’ inflation is of the highest importance. If true, it will have fatally compromised the reading and writing national standards results sent in and being sent in. More than 80,000 students sat the new version of the test in term four. I think e-asTTle is a rubbish test anyway but for the purposes of this article I have to take it seriously simply because many schools do. There were 80,000 students who sat the test in term four, the only ‘standardised’ test for writing – so as a marker for national standards results, no matter all the talk of triangulation, it will have had a distinct effect on national standards results. The NZCER test STAR competes with PAT as a reading marker, but 1200 schools use it. Once again it must have had a distinct effect on results.

If the inflated national standards results aren’t challenged they will be proclaimed as a success for national standards. Is that what fence-sitters want: national standards entrenched in that way?

If teachers can establish that the two tests produced significantly inflated results, it will make clear that national standards do not produce quality data, just the reverse; that there are no national standards; that national standards is a farce; that national standards cannot validly be used for value-added appraisals; and that this year’s national standards should be called off, preliminary to national standards being dumped. These are issues we will be faced with on the release of the results and league tables; why not face these issues now, from a strong tactical position?

Now for evidence that the two organisations have stuffed up.

Both organisations by their actions have admitted results’ inflation because both organisations introduced changes on how their tests were to be administered and interpreted subsequent to the launching of the tests; in both cases, the introduced changes are farcical or invalid; in both cases the communication of those changes was haphazard and chaotic.

STAR first.

NZCER for reasons known only to themselves, decided not to take courses to introduce the revised test. It was all done through postings and electronically. There was some mention of extra attention to individual trajectories but absolutely no mention of using the next year’s marking schedule for this year’s results.

The largely hidden communication, late in the year, to use next year’s marking schedule went largely unnoticed by schools. This is an absolute acknowledgement that it was in response to evidence they had gained for themselves that the end of year STAR results were significantly inflated, especially for average and lower ability children. To reinforce that, I can say that the NZCER’s bell curve for the results has been sighted and it shows a ballooning of the end of year results.

The next ploy was to say that stanines were old hat and the so-called results’ inflation somehow was to do with principals hanging onto stanines when it was now all about scaling. This was not in the beginning of year communications, nor does it make sense. Scaling is prone to all sorts of trickery but, if done honestly, still uses the same data. The fact is, the relationship between stanines and scaling is the other way round, stanines provide a huge amount of school and individual information, with scaling useful but subordinate.

Cosslett says in the Listener that ‘Crawford and many other principals are still feeding their raw results through stanines – the classic bell curve – when another method is much more helpful in tracking progress.’

Oh dear! Feeding horrible raw material into stanines and the classic bell curve – how quaint.

Having got themselves into a hole, NZCER, it seems, is set on allowing dealt-to material to form a non-classic bell curve – that’s the post-modern way.

This position is all post-launch, which is significant, but it is also an admission that NZCER would consider tampering with the raw material before putting it into a bell curve of their own making.

That non-classic bell curve for STAR has been sighted and is weird. NZCER is digging itself into a bigger hole.

Cosslett is kind enough to say that schools will probably use both stanines and scaling. So where does that leave his argument that the results’ inflation was somehow to do with principals insisting on staying with stanines? NZCER is using scaling and trajectories as a smokescreen.

As well as no proper launch, I have learnt something else.

NZCER was asked for their methodology and they said ‘no’ and neither would it be released to anyone. (I just wonder if NZCER used for its test revision, the papers it marked, on payment, from schools. These would have been wealthier schools, upper decile schools; just a passing thought.)

There has been a significant results’ inflation with STAR nearly all focused on the end of year results, and mainly to the advantage of middle and lower ability children. It doesn’t need my arguments to show this, it is shown in the timeline of NZCER actions subsequent to its launching. In my view, case closed.

Now for e-asTTle.

The developers of e-asTTle, unlike STAR, undertook a systematic introduction.

But from there, the pattern repeats.

The emphasis in these courses was on using a rubric to make decisions about the writing children had produced under test conditions.

There was no mention at these courses about how Chris Harwood describes e-asTTle:

‘What the test is actually testing has fundamentally changed. The old e-asTTle test looked at the piece of writing each student did during a test, and gave results purely on face value. The new one uses that piece of writing as a starting point, and extrapolates to what the student could probably do with support from his or her teacher and without the pressure of the test.’ 

The problem is that this fundamental change was never mentioned in the opening courses, only put forward in response to teachers reporting significantly inflated results. And by that time very few schools had the time to actually use this ‘fundamentally changed’ way of administering the test. Not that it would have made any difference.

But that is not the main issue: this test if administered the way described, is very nice for an everyday classroom activity, but as a standardised test is almost completely out of control – and certainly if applied in a high stakes’ environment.

What the developers have done is accepted the inflated results as the norm, changed the bell graph, allowing them to say there are no anomalies – and there aren’t if you accept the new bell curve.

The end result will be significantly inflated reading and writing. In one sense who cares a damn – a curse on all your testing houses.

But in the context of league tables, value-added appraisals to come, the corruption of all data generally, the bureaucratic dominance of the bureaucracies, government scapegoating of schools, the narrowing of the curriculum, the way decision making is being taken away from teachers and principals, and the fear ridden system that is developing – challenging these test absurdities becomes of huge importance.

And I ask, is this rubbish way of proceeding good for children. When organisations act with less than honesty, when they twist and turn, in the end it is children who suffer. I appeal to the NZCER and to the ministry; your actions have made clear that something is seriously wrong, now for the sake of the children, come clean.

There is no doubt that standardised tests are set to go from the Wild West to anarchy: bell curves being established wherever the results fall.

Standardised tests have a place, and they should be kept in that place, under the new rules, standardised tests are set to run chaotically free.

Brave teachers willing to speak out, it is up to you. The teacher organisations are unlikely to be any help, and academics worse than useless.

The shambles can be turned to advantage but, if not corrected, will make even worse the situation of teachers in relation to the government and the bureaucracies.

And for some predictions: there will eventually be a grudging admission of ‘some difficulties’ from the developers, but they will say they are being addressed or already have been. In the case of STAR, NZCER will put a huge emphasis on scaling and individual trajectories, because scaling allows teachers to reset the reporting of results (in other words alter the raw material), thereby confusing the results’ inflation that will show up in the stanines. (The government will be delighted, seeing it as supporting their plans for value-added appraisals based on individual trajectories.) As for e-asTTle I cannot see a genuine solution, it’s pretty much beyond control. The developers will probably go quiet for awhile, and then return to an old style of e-asTTle.

For us, the inflated results are in the system, we must kick up merry hell.

(And what do you know? NZCER is running standardised assessment courses in March and April. They have come out of their shell. It will be an exercise in propaganda for the marvels of scaling and trajectories. Don’t go, you won’t learn anything you don’t know, and be told much you needn’t.)

The day Roger Kerr sent me a legal letter from Kensington Swan

I had always thought that Roger Kerr incapable of an original idea, but I was wrong, after the publication of the following gentle satire in my magazine (Developmental Network Newsletter, No.3, 1997) he did, indeed, have an original idea (one or two others having now followed in his wake) – of issuing me a legal letter.

So we had the situation of a powerful business lobbyist and powerful Wellington law firm, concentrating their sights on a magazine for primary teachers, circulation 2000 (three times a year). I was highly flattered. Apologise and retract the letter said, or else.

All I did, I said in reply, was to extend the logic of your argument a little.

People might think I made those remarks, he said.

Yes – they might, I said, which is the justification for making them.

(The two newspaper items are real.)

Waikato Times item 1.

Law school blacklist ‘complete nonsense’


WAIKATO law graduates are chased by Auckland firms and Roger Kerr is talking nonsense, says a Hamilton lawyer.

Mr Kerr, executive director of the Business Roundtable, told a Waikato Student Union forum this week that a national law firm had a policy of not employing Waikato law graduates.

Norris Ward solicitor Murray Bindon said: ‘I am aware of no firm who would make such a comment. It’s complete nonsense.’

Mr Bindon whose firm employs two Waikato graduates, said the university’s law graduates had been chased by Auckland firms since the seven-year-old course began turning out lawyers.

The university said more than 70% of last year’s 108 graduates had found fulltime jobs within six months.

Waikato is slightly ahead of Auckland University which said 67% had jobs six months after completing their degrees.

Waikato Times item 2.

Business group wants education vouchers

SCHOOLS and tertiary institutions should be exposed to more competition and students should be funded by vouchers, Business Roundtable executive Roger Kerr said in a speech prepared for delivery this morning.

More competition was needed and private institutions had to be able to compete equally with state institutions, he said.

The simplest way to achieve this was to allow funding to follow the student (a voucher system).

There was no shortage of evidence that, on average, private schools outperformed state schools and that choice was an important factor in raising standards.

It was no surprise that Australia out-performed New Zealand in international comparisons of achievement: it had a much larger number of private schools, Mr Kerr said.

Roger Kerr: veritable Kiwi Socrates

Roger Kerr of the Business Roundtable, as we’ve come to recognise from experience over the years, is a person of towering intellect in education matters – a veritable Kiwi Socrates. We have all learnt to rely on his insights. Not for him the overstatement, the speculative, the unsupported allegations. To gain the wisdom he seeks to convey, a careful appreciation of what he has to say is required. He builds to his final truth through the construction of a carefully considered framework and then the addition of a tightly argued detail.

None of this, of course, should surprise anyone. After all, consider his background. He went to school, university, and his children went to school. With a background like that he has a head start on most education commentators.

To develop my case for Roger Kerr’s eminence in education matters, I draw your attention to the to the newspaper items above.

In the first item, a Murray Bindon, in his criticism of Roger, completely confuses his argument with statistics – a sure sign of a weak defence.

No more needs to be said about that.

It is to the main part of Roger’s address – the pallid performance of state schools I want to pay most attention.

In this second newspaper item, with the directness we have come to know and love in Roger Kerr, he gets straight to the point: ‘There was,’ he says, ‘no shortage of evidence that, on average, private schools outperformed state schools, and that choice was an important factor in raising standards.’

Note the use of the academic phrase, on average. To us lesser trained minds it wouldn’t have occurred to have used such a phrase in such a way. I invite you to turn the phrase over on your tongue, say it aloud, savour it. We might say a footy match was fairly average, but that would be the end of it – for the unimaginative, as most of us are, to pluck a phrase like, on average, out of the air is breathtaking, a stunning rhetorical achievement.

Roger’s insertion of this phrase into the debate gives promise of new and exciting philosophical possibilities. The effect is of sunlight suffusing the darkness of ignorance and confusion.

We are, Roger, forever in your debt. I hasten to add, though, that Roger, as already noted above, rarely wastes time functioning at the level of mathematical evidence. You will already have observed that none is given in his address. For him the on average allusion is a quite sufficient. To Roger Kerr, a dwelling on mathematical evidence is both the last first and last resort of a fool. What Roger Kerr relies on for his credibility is coruscating wit, profundity of insight, and Olympian delivery.

However, that is not the only wisdom to be gained from the paragraph so notably elevated by the reference to on average.

To introduce what he was saying, Roger Kerr said, ‘There was no shortage of evidence.’ So there you go. Who better to know?

No-one, I suggest, should even bother scratching around in research journals trying to find evidence to the contrary, or to quibble over tenuous arguments about research reliability and validity, or to establish whether such research even exists.

Roger has said there is ‘no shortage of evidence’, and that is where the matter should rest.

After all, commonsense tells us Roger is right. (The way his insights generate a profusion of commonsense intuitions being a further attestation to his brilliance).

Take Kings College, for instance. It is a South Auckland school and a private one – its examination results are far superior to the neighbouring South Auckland state school of Otahuhu. If you take a number of private schools like Kings College, and a number of state schools like Otahuhu, on average (it never fails to thrill), the private schools will have better examination results than state ones. Game, set, and match.

Roger Kerr said much more in his address than is reported in the newspaper. Newspapers have this infuriating habit of not reporting his speeches in full. While we are appreciative of the Kerr pearls that do get through to the pages of our daily press, so many don’t.

For that reason, I include a number of other things that were in his speech. I am sure that, once again, they will impress you with their reasonableness and the way they carry their own authenticity.

‘Teachers in state schools,’ Roger Kerr said, ‘lack motivation and have little concern for the children they teach. All those no-hopers are interested in is their fortnightly pay.’

‘There is plenty of evidence,’ he said, ‘on average, to support that.’

‘Teachers in private schools, on the other hand, have an aura all of their own. The fact that their training is the same as that for state school teachers is immaterial. The moment they step into the hallowed halls of a private school an epiphanic transformation occurs. ‘At a conference, the faces of private teachers stand out – a sense of beatification being noticeable.’

‘What a contrast to the demeanour of state school teachers. Their sly, slack appearance, depressing to any who bother to glance their way.’

‘On average, state school teachers don’t give a damn for the children they teach. All they want to communicate is their leftist, co-operative, feminist, greeny, hug-a-Maori ideology.’

‘State school teachers are not true New Zealanders in the way we are. They don’t have the disinterested concern for New Zealand so typical of teachers in private schools or members of the Roundtable. ’

‘Their self-seeking behaviour and ideological concerns inure state school teachers to the normal range of emotions felt by decent New Zealanders. That is why we have no compunction in setting out to destroy whatever lingering respect for them remains, and the institutions that persist in employing them. The cut of criticism does not get through to them. They don’t feel and they don’t care. There is no shortage of evidence for this.’

‘There have been times,’ Roger Kerr admitted, ‘when, for the greater cause, I have been tempted to embellish things a bit, to give truth some enhancement, to say, for instance, that there is evidence for something when, on average, there isn’t.’

‘But I have, in the end, resisted such temptation. If I had succumbed, the interpretation might have been that the case I was making was not strong, that what I was doing was not a disinterested search for truth, but ideologically partisan, and that I cared more for my ideology than I did for my fellow New Zealanders. Then I would have been vulnerable to the same criticism I’m making of those state school teaching time-servers.’

‘State school teachers are devious beyond belief. There is no shortage of evidence for that. Mrs Smith of the local school with her cardy and floral print dress doesn’t fool me one little bit. Behind that ruddy, simple, cheery face lies the fevered mind of a latter-day Che Guevara.’

And then our Roger makes his typically stirring address finale.

‘What is good for business is good for education. Posterity will laud our message as inspirational idealism. We have lit on a universal truth. People are economic animals – only willing to change and improve through competition and the prospect of material gain. That is the message for schools and humanity. I can assure you, that in future decades, when historians look back, they will not see that this message is excessive. There will be no calls for change in Tomorrow’s Schools. They will say we got it right.’

‘Picot described Tomorrow’s Schools as providing a level playing field for the various sides in education. We have a big laugh about that, because it serves to distract attention from the real issue. It doesn’t matter whether a field is level, or tilts this way or that, because it evens out at the halftime changeover. So that is all floss. What matters is who controls the referee. And in that respect, we do. While other groups fuss around surveying the plane of the ground, we control those who officiate.’

‘That’s how it should be, because we represent the future. State schools represent the past and we’ll whistle them to a standstill. So far they have persisted in playing on, but they are proving an embarrassment to themselves, and a burden to everyone else.’

When we have razed and torched the state schools and banished the ratbags who infest them, there will arise from the ashes, the phoenix of a multitude of private schools. These schools will seek out the poor and the disaffected and all who come unto them.’

‘In our mind’s eye, our schools will be bathed in a bright light and choirs of angels will sing – and all will be well.’

There will be no shortage of evidence, on average, to prove that.’