The definition of insanity…

Dr Michael Johnston
Insights Newsletter
28 October, 2022

One of the few things more irritating than someone saying, “I told you so”, is someone sticking their fingers in their ears when you’re trying to tell them something important.

In July of this year, the New Zealand Initiative published a Policy Note titled, A Way Ahead for Literacy and Numeracy. We reported on a 2021 trial of new assessments for literacy and numeracy, scheduled to become corequisites for NCEA in 2024. The results of a new pilot of these assessments have now been published.

The results of the earlier trial were dismal. Just 67% of candidates met the standard in reading and 65% in numeracy. Only 35% met the standard for writing.

These are not standards certifying that students are ready for university. Rather, they specify the literacy and numeracy skills people need to function at a basic level in modern society.

We recommended urgent reform to the teaching of literacy and numeracy, using an approach based on scientific evidence. We further recommended that the new standards not be implemented as a corequisite for NCEA in 2024. These new teaching approaches will take time to flow through to improvement in children’s abilities. In the meantime, we argued, the standards should contribute to a stand-alone certificate of literacy and numeracy.

The response of the education establishment to our report was to stick their fingers in their ears.

Pip Tinning, vice-president of the Association of Teachers of English, said that, while the results were “confronting”, when they’re introduced as an NCEA corequisite, “the results won't be so horrific."

The Ministry of Education tried to explain the results away by saying that the sample wasn’t representative. Vaughan Couillault, president of the Secondary Principals Association, said that the trial was about the assessment rather than the students. He said we should wait for the 2022 pilot results. Well Vaughan, the 2022 results are now in, and guess what? – they’re even worse.

To be fair, the writing result couldn’t have got much worse. It was down just one percentage point from 2021. Reading achievement was down three points, with 64% of candidates meeting the standard in the 2022 pilot. Numeracy has tumbled nine points, to just 56% of candidates meeting the standard this year.

These results were entirely predictable. The Ministry was right that the 2021 sample wasn’t representative. The trouble is that it over-represented students in demographics that normally do well.

But it’s irritating to say, “I told you so”. So, I won’t.

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