Dear parents and caregivers
Last week the Government announced changes to teacher staffing ratios that will increase class sizes and result in the loss of 500 teacher positions every year for the next five years.
Teachers’ organisations are very concerned at this decision because research shows that smaller classes help boost children’s reading and maths performance, improve behaviour and engagement, especially for children who are struggling.
The Government has said the $43 million a year “saved” by increasing class sizes will be used to improve teacher quality by introducing performance pay. It says an element of performance pay will be the National Standards results of students in a teacher’s class. National Standards data will also be available to draw up school league tables after May 31st, the deadline for all schools to submit their annual reports to the Ministry of Education.
As teachers and as a school, we are not afraid of being accountable. We value our partnership with parents and we want to provide clear and transparent information to you. But we have grave concerns about National Standards data being used in a “high stakes” way to determine teacher pay or to rank schools. We do not believe this will give you an accurate or fair picture of children's progress or achievement - or a valid or reliable picture of what our teachers, our school and other schools are doing to support children's learning.
We have five main concerns:
1. Performance pay does not raise standards
A recent OECD study found no clear link between performance pay for teachers and raising standards in schools. Of course teachers want fair recognition for our skills and expertise, but we do not want a pay system based on dodgy data from National Standards. And we do not want students to suffer increased class sizes to pay for an unfair performance pay system.
2. League tables unfairly label schools, their students and their communities
Many schools that are doing an excellent job at supporting children's learning in challenging environments will appear to be "failing” if judged by National Standards achievement data alone. Teachers may be boosting children's learning significantly -- but many students will not reach the Standard for their chronological age particularly in their first few years at school. A crude league table could reinforce prejudices about a school, its students and its community on the basis of unreliable and invalid evidence.
3. High stakes decisions about pay and leagues tables are unfair when National Standards are not reliable or consistent
The Standards were introduced very speedily and without any trial. They are still a "work in progress" and have been implemented inconsistently across schools - they are not a single national test. Teachers are making judgements about whether your child is "above", "at", "below" or "well below" to the best of their professional ability. But unlike NCEA, there is no agreed system for "moderation" of results within or across all schools.
4. National Standards measure student achievement - they are not a valid way to judge school effectiveness or teacher performance
Research shows "out of school" factors such as family background, socio-economic factors and natural ability are more significant an influence on a child's achievement than even the most effective teacher. Children learn in different ways and at different speeds: they may plateau for a year and then suddenly take off. To judge a teacher's pay or school's performance on one year's student achievement data is neither fair nor valid.
5. Publishing school league tables risks identifying both students and teachers
More than half of the primary schools in New Zealand have fewer than 150 students. Schools are required to provide the numbers or proportions of students above/at/below/well below Standard based on gender and ethnicity. It would be relatively easy in some communities to identify students and/or teachers. This would be an unacceptable invasion of privacy.
We are concerned that increasing class sizes, ranking schools and introducing performance pay will harm New Zealand’s high quality education system. New Zealand students ranks in the top five countries in the world for reading and maths. We should be resourcing programmes that we know work to boost student learning, not introducing failed experiments from overseas.
Your child’s teacher knows more about your child’s achievement than National Standards can tell you. I encourage you to talk to you child's teacher or to myself if you would like to discuss these issues further.