I am so sick of hearing the 1 in 5 line

The National Party were very clear before the last election that they would launch a 'literacy and numeracy crusade'. I have no problem with that.

The National Party were very clear before the last election that they would implement a 'national standards' policy. I have no problem with that.

It was all very open, written in the manifesto and there for voters to give their tick to if they liked it. And a majority did. I like democracy.

The National Party are now the elected government of New Zealand. State schools are schools of the state. We must follow the laws enacted by the elected government. I have no problem with that.

What drives me nuts is the inability of the Minister of Education to give any answer to any question about how the mere existence of national standards will improve standards of achievement. The only answer I can find is that "1 in 5 children leave school without required literacy and numeracy skills". She parrots this one-liner out at every opportunity. There is no other depth to her reasoning. I am really keen to hear more from her. I like debate and enjoy listening to all sides of an argument.

I want my minister to speak, clarify and explain, beyond just saying that "1 in 5 children leave school without required literacy and numeracy skills".

What does 1 in 5 actually mean?

1 in 5 means 20%. 

This is a bell curve. It shows the national expectation of performance of children in New Zealand in one of the standardised tests which we use at our school (and which we have used for years). The national statistical expectation on the curve is in brackets. The Waimairi School numbers are without brackets. Children in the 1,2 or 3 stanine band are the kids the Minister of Education claims are the shocking 1 in 5. 

Yes, of course there are 1 in 5 failing nationally. In any population 20% (or 1 in 5) are going to be at this end of a bell curve. That is the very nature of a natural spread of ability across the population.

Minister, it is not shocking that 1 in 5 fail, it is a statistical reality. In this illustrated PAT graph the expectation is in fact 23% (the 4% + 19%) failing.

What sort of principal would just accept that 1 in 5 children in his or her school failing in this way? Not many of us and certainly not me.

The way that we have addressed the 1 in 5 in our school over the last two years has been through the Literacy Professional Development Project (LPDP). They have been named, they have been put into focus groups in classrooms and the teachers have been taught how to try, try and try again with an ever changing approach to teaching to move these kids away from being at risk.

And it has worked. Year on year we are helping these children be the best they can be. We don't take 1 in 5 as the status quo. We aim to make it better. We have data to show this approach is working. We are one of the schools that Trevor Mallard is talking about in this video clip.

So back to the main question. How will the mere existence national standards help the 1 in 5? 

We already know who they are. We work our behinds off to shift them upwards. What will another way of being measured do for these kids?

The distribution of children across the schools of New Zealand does not follow a nice neat bell curve. Many schools have a disproportionate number of the  '1 in 5' as their student majority. If league tables on student performance are published as a result of national standards how can any meaningful judgement about the quality of education at those schools ever be made? I hope it never happens.
1 in 5 is part of life but the uneven distribution of the 1 in 5 across a city’s, or the nation’s schools makes a for very uneven playing field. Every suburb in every town does not look like a bell curve. Certain schools have certain parts of the curve as their main pupil base.
I am not part of the tedious NZEI protest bus tour. I am not part of the Principals' Federation campaign. I am just wanting the Minister of Education, my boss, to speak to me intelligently and tell me something I don't already know. 

Yes 1 in 5 fail, I got that bit. Now tell me how national standards will help kids achieve and help teachers make sure that they do.


  1. 1 in 5 said about 5 times during question time alone! My concern would also be teachers teaching to a test. Thankfully this was not part of the national standards roll out. In order for some schools to achieve to 'the standard', they may well use the standards as a strict guide to learning which would undermine the intentions of our revised curriculum. Potentially National Standards completely devalues our curriculum and its values on 21st century learning.

    I completely agree that Literacy and Numeracy are absolutely paramount to a child's education and that a large proportion of teaching time should be spent on these especially at primary school level. I don't know of any teachers who go to work to harm or who purposely sabotage learning. Every teacher I know works to the best of their abilities to ensure they are doing the best for the children in their classes, using the most up to date teaching and learning practice available to them. Does Anne Tolley actually know any teachers??

    League tables would be a disaster as it does not measure the value of a teacher or school, nor would it take into account the net gain some children make given a highly skilled teacher in a school with a larger proportion of lower achievers. Some of our best teachers work in schools where children do not have every advantage, and make a huge difference.

    Anne Tolley is a Minister NOT an educationalist, she is still very much focussed on industrial models of teaching, and possibly should spend some more time in schools talking to skilled teachers about what they actually do.

  2. Good points Robert. Thanks for the comment. It is tempting to take shots at the minister herself but what I really want is a high quality debate, with her as part of it.

    I don't care if she knows any teachers or how many schools she has visited. She just has to be able to articulate her position without using the 1 in 5 line.

  3. mate well said about the bell curve, it's been around almost as long as bells. the national party fact about 1 in 5 can also mean 80% are passing, so lets try to get that to 90% and put the resource where it is needed, address the issues with the kids that need support. The reason the last question cant be answered (Now tell me how national standards will help kids achieve and help teachers make sure that they do.) is because they wont help. In fact they will hinder. So you can't get any reasonable robust discussion to back up the arguement unless you talk to the professional development providers who have been thrown the nats 36 million, they are out there now justifying anything for a buck. shame really. spot on with the blog ! by the way if Nat Standards are brought upon us because they are failing at Y11, and are written from the top down, where are the standards for Y10 and Y9 - there aren't any - not important, and the nats don't want to pick a fight with PPTA as well. ha more humour.

  4. Peter VerstappenMonday, March 29, 2010

    Hi Mike, your points are well made. So, what approach are you taking to National Standards at Waimairi School?

  5. Thanks for the comment Peter.

    The approach we are taking is the same approach we take with every new decision. Make sure that whatever we do aligns with the values and beliefs about learning in our school. Our values and beliefs have been carefully developed by our school community, over a long period of time, as part of the wider NZ Curriculum process.

    We want to make lemonade from any lemons sent our way so we are going to make sure any use of the Standards at our school is aligned to what we believe in.

    At this stage they may well be heading towards being a mainly formative assessment tool to build on work we are already doing in this area.

    But the whole thing so rushed at the national level we can't even say this for sure.

    I am getting worried that the most common language coming from schools is that they are starting by "looking at their moderation processes" as a first step. Kind of screams an exclusively summative use.

    Too little info given to us at the school level so far to make much more sense of things at this stage.

  6. The wheel turns again...


    I'm a parent and I can't get a straight answer out of Hon Anne Tolley or the Ministry on some basic questions to do with how National Standards will effect my child (Stanine 9). The opposition had been asking the questions through parliamentary process but answers are vague.
    I, like you, value good debate but unfortunately this policy has been so rushed that I don't think half the implications have been considered. I wish they'd just answer honestly and if they don't know then offer to find out, instead of veiling non-answers in a bunch of meaningless slogans which must assume parents are all intellectually-impaired

  7. Thanks for the comment Linda.

    It sounds like we are both just after a good debate. Both sides need to lower their levels of agression and emotion. Some good thinking might emerge.

    You might like to read this opinion piece by John Langley http://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/opinion/97515/standards-debate-needs-revision