student progress

How is progress measured?

The New Zealand Minister of Education noted in an interview that the government was considering new ways of improving the funding of new Zealand schools.

“The government is considering” is a phrase to cover either there is a working group inside the Ministry looking at this issue, or this came up in a recent conversation.

I tend to think that there is a group inside the Ministry of Education reviewing funding mechanisms for school.

For readers of this blog from outside New Zealand, schools here receive funding for everything apart from total capital cost of new build and salaries of teachers. Each school receives a staffing allowance of the equivalent of how many full-time teachers will be paid for by the government. So a school might receive finding for 84.65 FTE (full-time equivalent teachers) and this will include time for special duties as senior reading teacher or Head of mathematics etc. Unlike in England where you you receive  bulk moneys for staff, so it is of advantage to replace an experienced teacher with one at bottom of teaching scale. Our unions in New Zealand fought a very successful campaign against bulk funding which has made it just a little more difficult to begin performance pay for everyone. Although I do have big worries that this is in the wind following the publication of Morris/Patterson study.

However the worrying element of the Minister’s comment over funding linked to student progress is that this too can reinforce  performance pay.

Her comment was really about performance pay for the school. The school would receive more from the government, if its students could demonstrate progress during the year.

In simple terms that does sound good. because we all want our students to make progress. But for most of us progress is defined in a number of ways. It can be that a student stops using “gay” in a pejorative sense; it may be that a student has completed a task when their prior history has been to give up; it may be that the student who is a reluctant reader has read five books at home in last month. These are all elements of progress.

But the English method of measuring progress is both more strait-jacketed and convoluted than that. And there is always the outsider measuring whether progress has been made in every lesson that is observed.

So in England we have Raise-on-line data and also the data collated by Fischer Family Trust ( Every child is in the system from the first time they are “measured”, and then their expected progress is plotted. So a child of a lawyer and a medical doctor who scores well initially will be expected to make 5 levels of progress  between the ages of nine and fifteen. While the child of immigrant cleaners will not be expected to make so much progress. This is a very bald description and I do apologise…you can find clearer descriptions on their websites. So, if in your school the students are not making expected progress then under Hekia Parata’s proposal the school will not receive as much money. And that could affect a well-to-do school as much as a school in Manukau.

That was the problem I was sent in to address in a school in a well off town in England. But the measurement is still based on the tests: pen and paper tests on a very very narrow curriculum. I was thrilled one day when the shyest girl in my year nine English class gave an explosive and well argued speech about how it felt to be constantly looked down on because she came from Essex. But according to the tests she only made minimal progress that year. I saw differently.

And this is the crux: as teachers we are professionals. We are making judgements every day. We adapt our classes every day to ensure the progress of different students. I want my wide-awake thinking students to grapple with a different point of view from what they are familiar with. I want my shy one to be listened get the picture. Those progressions cannot be measured by tests.

I and all teachers love and are committed to progress for every learner. Tying money to that progress will mean that progress will have to be measured and therein lies the major major problem!!