Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Standards Matter

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  • buzzy,

    Do universities even take individual grades at 7th form/year 12 (or whatever) in to account anymore for entry into specific papers?
    I seem to remember getting in to every paper I wanted at Vic back in the mid 90's with pretty marginal grades, and the same again when I applied for UoA in the late 90's.

    ...that's because you were doing an arts degree (Sorry, couldn't resist that one ;-)

    In the science faculty, yes, some courses required a minimum grade in a certain school subject to get entry. Or, you needed to convince the lecturer to let you in even without those grades, which was down to whether or not they'd had an appropriate amount of coffee that morning. Not all courses required this - Comp 101 for example was open to anyone matriculated to the university.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 20 posts Report Reply

  • Dave Patrick,

    It all seems to be policy in search of a point.

    It's not even policy in search of a point, it's an election slogan in search of a policy to hang itself on.

    I have a bias in this, in that I'm chair of the local school BOT, and am going to have to, along with the principal, find a way of implementing this election promise without alienating staff, parents or pupils. This promises to be a fun year.....

    I also wish the School Trustees Association would just shut up, stop acting as if their pronouncements come with automatic support from all boards, stop acting so much like a mini-Business Roundtable, and actually contribute something more than a "ra-ra Tolley" from the sidelines......

    Rangiora, Te Wai Pounamu • Since Nov 2006 • 261 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Do universities even take individual grades at 7th form/year 12 (or whatever) in to account anymore for entry into specific papers?

    Depends on the paper; there's been a big shift to open entry over the past couple of decades. (Partly to allow people from non-traditional backgrounds better access to higher education, partly 'cause bums-on-seats.)

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Certainly when I went to Victoria, the requirement to get into - say - Math 112 was a B or higher in bursary Maths. It wasn't "B in bursary Maths, unless you come from an underprivileged school, in which case we'll let you in with a C".

    There's a difference between pre-requisites, and factors taken into account when selecting students for a limited-entry course.

    When I went to law school at Vic, entry into LAWS 101 was officially to the effect that:

    'B' Bursary required. 300 students selected. 'A' bursary guarantees entry, remaining places offered to students selected based on academic and other matters.

    That is, the university might well have been more likely to offer a place in Laws 101 to a student who passed bursary with a 260 at Tokoroa High School, over a student from Scot's with a 280.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    I was even worse. I dropped out a couple of weeks into my second semester because I felt so utterly lost,

    At one time it used to be possible to get first year university drop out rates grouped by high school. It's not a number that you saw very often published. From my year I think the "winner" was Mt Albert closely followed by Auckland Boys.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4450 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    It's not that in the hard sciences you measure only easy things, but those measurements are expected to be repeatable. You can't do that with education. You can pretend to do that, wrapping your "results" in the language of the hard sciences, with usually calamitous results.

    What is the annoying bit in assessing of humans is the fact that .....surprise....we are all different. There is a spectrum of results of students - and teachers - from incompetent to competent. Pass, average, fail, or if you will, could be somewhere between from 0 to 100. Although I concede it is open ended, but more to the competent end I suspect. So we have to look at group dynamics in the measurement and the stats say there is a large uncertainty in any measurement you wish to make.

    How you move bulk students from fail to pass makes interesting philosophical discussion....and open ended.

    What happens when everyone moves up in competence? The average shifts and a whole bunch who were competetent now move to incompetent....oh dear...I hate stats.

    So. Where do you set a level of 'competence" then? ...Hmmm. We could have some standards maybe......but then again....that probably ain't gunna work either.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1588 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    We (in the tertiary sector) certainly could do a lot more to manage the transition from school to uni; I think it's got worse under NCEA because we in the Ivory Tower have been very slow to adapt to students who expect a different (and in some ways clearer and better) assessment system than the sudden onslaught of essays and exams.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I understand that "stupid and energetic" was the main qualification for a post in the Key cabinet. Along with an inclination to view things from helicopters.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    What is the annoying bit in assessing of humans is the fact that .....surprise....we are all different. There is a spectrum of results of students - and teachers - from incompetent to competent. Pass, average, fail, or if you will, could be somewhere between from 0 to 100. Although I concede it is open ended, but more to the competent end I suspect. So we have to look at group dynamics in the measurement and the stats say there is a large uncertainty in any measurement you wish to make.

    There's that, but what I object to more is that as soon as you start treating education as a science, then you automatically focus on the things that you can measure, however imperfectly, and stop paying attention to the things that are harder or in fact impossible to plot on a graph. How do you measure "values" or "inclusion"?

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • slarty,

    Don't s'pose there's any chance of setting standards for a persons behaviour as part of civil society, and then measuring our performance as we grow up? Maybe at, say, 4, 8 , 12 and 18?

    Oh no, that would be a way of measuring parental performance.

    Now wouldn't that be an interesting league table.

    Since Nov 2006 • 290 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    But that's not right: we can clearly measure `values' in some sense. We can say: that child is more moral than that other child. We could divide them into moral/immoral. Or even if we can't do that, we could surely talk about actions being moral or immoral.

    So it can't be that these things are absolutely immeasurable.

    And by the way Gio, he did say medicine as well. I shouldn't think medicine isn't science, but them I shouldn't say medicine is science either.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I understand that "stupid and energetic" was the main qualification for a post in the Key cabinet. Along with an inclination to view things from helicopters.

    A bit harsh. I find I tend to divide the current crop of ministers into the ones I rate and respect, even if I might not always agree with them, and those who I don't really think are up to the job.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22749 posts Report Reply

  • Gordon Dryden,

    Perhaps we should lift this discussion into the real 21st-century, and celebrate a few successes:

    1. Peter Jackson (our best model for 21st-century literacy?) never went to university; started making his first movies with an 8mm camera, using his home vegetable garden for film-sets, at age 8. His real-life assessment for success: his team's world-record-equalling 11 Academy Awards in a night and 23 over all three episodes of "Lord of The Rings".

    2. In China, to enter university students need a minimum 70 per cent pass-mark in all basic subjects, including literacy, mathematics and science. On his first try, student Jack Ma scored near the top of China in English, and dead last in mathematics: 1%. The following year (while earning a living guiding English-language tourists around China), his English marks soared again, but he still failed the entrance test: only 19% in maths. Third time lucky: he spent hours every week memorising rote-mathematics, and just made it with 70%. Then he married his English skills to the Internet and set up Alibaba.com for China to "Open Sesame" to the world. It's now the world's biggest e-commerce Web site (much bigger than Amazon) and links around 40 million Chinese manufacturers with English-language Western buyers. The first day it floated on the Hongkong Stock Exchange, its share value hit US $26 billion — much higher than Google's float price. Ma is now one of China's richest men.

    3. Bucklands Beach Intermediate School in Manukau City is one of the 2000-plus New Zealand schools to use interactive digital technology as a catalyst to reinvent a school system (classroom, desks, blackboard and textbooks) designed over 300 years ago. And its assessment-reporting system is great: all students record their achievements on digital portfolios and parents can view their children's portfolios 24 X 7 on their home computers any day of the year, and not from a simple half-yearly one-dimensional assessment. And on a light note . . .

    4. After my one year at Christchurch West High School (now Hagley High) in 1945, the school still refused to allow me to learn shorthand and typing (which I wanted as tools for a career in journalism, but such tuition was solely for girls). And even though I was then reading an average of four books a week (mainly mystery stories), our half-yearly "English assessment test" was on only one book: Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice". In disgust, I quit school (illegally at 14) and spent several months working on a farm while taking International Correspondence School courses in short-story writing and journalism. They were enough to win a job as a junior proof-reader the following year (with shorthand and typing at a mainly-girls' private commercial college), and a journalistic career a year later. As some of your readers may know, I still earn a living as a multimedia writer — mainly on "education" and learning:-)

    Now assess that — and enjoy a TV flashback: http://www.send1keep1.com/tlw/bgo/

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    At one time it used to be possible to get first year university drop out rates grouped by high school. It's not a number that you saw very often published. From my year I think the "winner" was Mt Albert closely followed by Auckland Boys.

    And the liberal non-uniform Western Springs College was for some time turning out students who fared notably better in their first year of tertiary than students from the schools it was losing enrolments to -- including Mt Albert Grammar.

    I think parents worked out in the end that a uniform and an old-fashioned name weren't everything.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22749 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    How do you measure "values" or "inclusion"?

    From 1 (low) to 10 (high). Because:
    * Everything that exists can be measured (corollary: if you can't measure something, it doesn't really exist).
    * All measures are inherently two-dimensional and reducible to a single continuum of values.

    See? And you thought this stuff was hard.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I think parents worked out in the end that a uniform and an old-fashioned name weren't everything.

    However it is quite possible with appropriate testing at high school level to game the system so that children from certain schools will have preferential access to limited enrolment courses and be rewarded for the social standing and income of their parents. As it should be.

    National standards aren't about helping underachieving students, they're about helping wealthy families to select the correct schools.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    An excerpt from a Chch Press story from 2006 (not by me):

    [John] Hattie's take is that in New Zealand, schools account for little of the variability in student achievement. Based on international comparative studies of student performance such as the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) project, and his own research into the relative performance of high-decile and low- decile schools, Hattie says the "school effect" accounts for as little as 4% of variance.

    The real difference, he believes, lies at home, in the "cultural capital", or learning advantages, that a child of a family of high socio-economic status brings with them to school.

    "In Christchurch, " he says, "you have half-a- dozen public schools with intakes in deciles eight to 10, the same deciles as the Rangi Rurus. I'd challenge you to find any difference if you sent a child randomly from one school to the other."

    Certain private schools will point to their domination of NCEA and other academic benchmarks as evidence of superior teaching. But all those results may be telling us is that those schools draw from an advantaged population and can pick and choose their intake.

    Better teachers? "The private-school system has run that public-relations argument for years without it being contested. But there is no evidence for it at all."

    Rather, once you control for student background, you find some of the most effective teaching occurs in the lower-decile schools.

    Hattie isn't arguing that private schools don't have a legitimate role. When it comes to the inculcation of values, for example, "they are clearly different from state schools _ and if they aren't different, then for goodness sakes, they don't deserve to exist".

    But their reputation as superior educators is founded more on myth than fact, he argues.

    "It's fascinating to observe those ongoing parental perceptions, when the evidence shows that money clearly doesn't make a difference."

    In fact, there is some research to suggest that, academically at least, a private education is at best of no advantage once a student has left high school.

    One study of 5000 University of Canterbury students found no significant difference in results at third-year level between ex-state and ex-private school students.

    Private schools will reply that the comparison isn't valid because a larger proportion of their students are encouraged to go on to tertiary study, including their less able.

    But in Britain, a University of Warwick investigation that compared the degree results of A-grade winning secondary students has concluded that a graduate of a private school has a worse chance of getting a first or an upper second. In fact, the more expensive their alma mater, the less impressive their degree. The researchers concluded that, removed from an environment of intensive coaching, some simply lacked the ability and organisation to keep their star aloft.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 656 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    There's that, but what I object to more is that as soon as you start treating education as a science, then you automatically focus on the things that you can measure, however imperfectly, and stop paying attention to the things that are harder or in fact impossible to plot on a graph. How do you measure "values" or "inclusion"?

    That really isn't fair Gio. What you are describing is bad science. I agree there are going to be less skilled education scientists that will do that but it isn't necessarily a function of the field itself.

    You can measure values and you can measure inclusion and you can measure all sorts of interesting things like integration into communities etc etc. All things that are really important parts of what todays education system does. The stats become hard and the data collection isn't trivial and often involve extended interviews etc etc. But people are doing that kind of hard work.

    Sure you could treat it as simplistic numbers and say ask for salary 5 years after leaving school, which would be complete bollocks. But I don't really believe education as a field is like that today.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4450 posts Report Reply

  • buzzy,

    we can clearly measure `values' in some sense.

    Or even if we can't do that...

    So we can clearly measure something, unless we can't, in which case we could do this other thing instead. That's excellent!

    Go ahead, line up a classroom of kids and measure their heights. Simple. Measure their ages. More difficult, 'cos you've got to ask them their birthdays and do some math, but still relatively simple barring any mathematical mistakes.

    Now line them up in order of morality. Good stuff, that's a tough one. Now, get all their parents to do the same. Guarantee you that the height and age lines will look largely the same, and every lineup measuring morality will look *very* different. Measurement? Certainly. Repeatable and objective, though?

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 20 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Martin,

    Has anyone explained the rationale behind exempting private schools from the standards?

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 187 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Dave Patrick: I sympathise. I was on a board at the time of the secondary teachers work to rule (strike?) for their big pay claim a few years ago.

    The NZ School Trustees' Assocation was useless (they are after all an employers' association and act like one) and many of the local secondary boards had stopped belonging to the national association but remained members of the local STA which was a very active and united group (unfortunately they've changed the constitution since and it no longer works like that). That way we could work as a strong lobby group with all the parties: minister, ministry, education unions, parents. In my experience most boards have a good relationship with the principal (who is also a full member of the board) and respect his/her expertise as head of teaching and learning in the school, which helps in coming to an informed position.

    You could try linking with local like minded boards for some united regional position which will make it easier for all parties.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3196 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    You can measure values and you can measure inclusion and you can measure all sorts of interesting things like integration into communities etc etc.

    How, since typically schools in high decile areas are in suburbs with predominantly professional couples and little in the way of daytime communities? I'm also unsure how you measure inclusion, since it's easy enough for a school to encourage admission of the the special needs kids that are easier to include in a mainstream classroom. There are simply no comparisons of that nature that you can make from a school to the next.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Now line them up in order of morality. Good stuff, that's a tough one. Now, get all their parents to do the same. Guarantee you that the height and age lines will look largely the same, and every lineup measuring morality will look *very* different. Measurement? Certainly. Repeatable and objective, though?

    Suppose I have a widget factory. Widgets can be defective in three different ways. I have some widgets that are defective in one way, others in a different way, and yet others in another way. And I have widgets that aren't defective.

    Now, I couldn't line them up from most-defective to least, & that would be nonsensical. But I could certainly make two piles: go/no-go.

    So the idea that measurability must mean easily enumerated and comparable &c is I think wrong.

    And yes, it's quite possible that different people might use different measuring sticks. I'm sure Wittgenstein rattles on about this, but basically if there isn't enough agreement on that we shouldn't try.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Robbie Siataga,

    Has anyone explained the rationale behind exempting private schools from the standards?

    or kura kaupapa maori ?

    my guess is tit for tat.

    Since Feb 2010 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    An excerpt from a Chch Press story from 2006 (not by me):

    There's another aspect of the standards that is consistent with Tory ideology and may not have been mentioned yet. I think it was Hattie who said at one point that it's not true that standardised testing results aren't accurate, in that they reflect very accurately the income of the families of the children who attend a school. Having said that, it's only natural that a society that punishes people for being poor may also want to assign the blame for poor educational outcomes to the schools in poorer community.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

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