Recently I wrote an editorial for the SAGE newsletter about my concerns about potential negative effects that National Standards could have upon gifted learners.
It is gratifying to read that at the Labour Party Conference a few weeks ago guest speaker Professor John Hattie noted, “that while a lot of attention was given to the "tail" of under-achievers, not enough attention was being given to children on the other side of the scale who were not achieving their potential” NZ HERALD HATTIE.
In Hattie’s report to the Ministry on National Standards, he warned
“Success in implementing national standards in literacy and numeracy should be evident by seeing: ...students appropriately challenged and no teaching as if all students in the one year are similarly challenged”.
Ideally, schools will use national standards to identify those students who are performing well above the standard in numeracy and literacy, and this will lead to teachers and school management:
· taking into account the student's prior knowledge and advanced learning ability
· making appropriate provisions for those students to learn at the appropriate learning level through differentiated learning and an appropriate level of challenge
· considering alternative learning pathways for these students so that they maintain their learning curve and remain engaged in learning
· making decisions about individual gifted learners that are based upon best practice for gifted
These are actually the stated and implied aims (and worthy ones at that) of the NZ Curriculum.
However, this ideal may not happen.
Schools with inadequate gifted identification processes in place may narrow identification of giftedness to achievement measurement in literacy & numeracy standards. This may further marginalise those gifted at risk of non-identification: those with learning or physical disability, minority ethnicities, lower socio-economic groups, and /or a different type of giftedness. These students are already at risk of underachieving because they often do enough to pass a standard, but their true potential is masked. Logic would dictate that if schools wish to raise student achievement, they should also be looking to that second tier of students.
Very high achieving gifted may be less well served than their underachieving “well –below” standard peers. A gifted student may be underachieving even if they are scoring at “well above” their age level. If further above level assessment can prove they are capable of achieving at an “above” the standard these students should be assessed at the higher standard and learning and reporting should reflect this. Tracking should be in place to ensure that learning continues on an appropriate curve. However, if there is no above level testing, this is unlikely to happen.
Raising the tail is not the only desperate need here.