...the issue is not whether children should be assessed (they should), or whether schools should be accountable (they should) but how and in relation what.
First simplify, then exaggerate
The word ‘standards’ ... has been routinely abused in the last few years, by politicians and others. ‘Raising standards’ ... is implied to stand for improving the overall quality of education in our schools. That, in the public mind ... is what the phrase means. The reality in schools, however, is that ‘raising standards’ means raising test scores, as measured by a set of relatively narrow indicators laid down more or less unilaterally by ministers, and often subject to disproportionate influence by the performance of a small group of schools. These scores represent only a sub-set of schools’ work. Therefore it is not clear that they stand, reliably, for schools’ overall quality. The two meanings are not interchangeable, and should not be treated as such.
Alexander discusses the successful international example, if by successful we mean top in international tests, Finland. Among the bullet points often made about Finland and why it does top the international achievement measures the following I think is most telling,
no national tests, no league tables, no draconian national system of inspection, no national teaching strategies, and indeed none of the so-called ‘levers’ of systemic reform in which the British government has invested so much. Clear assessment criteria are written into the national curriculum and are regularly applied by teachers, but there is no national testing as such until the national matriculation examination at the end of secondary education.30 As I said earlier, it’s not testing that drives up standards but good teaching.
The best quote however was an excerpt from a letter published in The Independent from 4 highly respected academics talking about the ongoing, read over many many years meddling in the education system from successive governments. While it was written about the UK experience, do you really think NZ is and has been any different? It took Finland 30 years to get to where they are today.
We have the same objectives as the government in wanting to offer a first-class education and training to all and, in particular, to narrow the attainment gap between the most and least advantaged. We have, however, become increasingly dismayed by ministers who are intent on permanent revolution in every aspect of the education system: in so acting, they demonstrate a deep lack of trust in the professional education community. It is not only the torrent of new policy that rains down on each sector, the constant changes in direction and the automatic rubbishing of any discomforting evidence by ministers: it’s also the failure of successive ministers to appreciate that reform has to be accompanied by continuity if the stability of our educational institutions and the high quality of their courses are to be preserved. We need a more consultative, democratic and inclusive way of developing and enacting policy for all the public services ... We have come independently to the same conclusion, namely that government policy is no longer the solution to the difficulties we face but our greatest problem.