About Thinks

Sometimes good thinks happen and sometimes bad thinks happen. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two.

Some thinks need immediate action and some thinks may remain as thinks forever. Thinks can be angry and heated. Thinks can be joyful. Thinks should never be cold.

These thinks are linked to many other wonderful thinks and I like to attribute these.

These thinks do not necessary reflect those thinks of my employer.

Think long, think on.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Breaking a PaCT

NZ primary school teachers are about to get a new treat thrust upon us.  It's called PaCT.

It appears that this idea came from a (well intentioned) academic who teaches in the tertiary sector.  I started my career in the tertiary sector and this experience bears absolutely no relation to what goes on in Primary School education.  The two sectors are worlds apart.

The tool is being developed to bring consistency to our overall teacher judgements (OTJs).  Or, as John Key might say, it is to ensure that the data is not ropey. The people developing PaCT are really excited.  They do believe that they are doing the right thing. Here is an explanation from an MLE post

Lets say the Rubric Maths has 5 sub-categories (think: counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying and division) and each of those sub-categories has 10 ability levels – this gives us 100,000 permutations (possible sub-category skill level combinations that a learner could have) – each of those combinations will result in a different OTJ score (think ability age) for this rubric. This when combined with the number of years of teaching that the learner has had can give us an overall idea whether the learner is where we think they should be for this rubric.

The teacher (and parents) will be able to see the students progress over time in a fashion that ensures the measurement is not distorted by the fact that the assessments were undertaken in different schools and by different teachers. What we are trying to achieve is to give you a view of the students progress as though YOU were the one that had done all the assessments since day one. How cool would that be?

I can see how non-primary school teachers would think that this kind of model may be useful.  It is all very scientific.  However it assumes that all teachers teach the same content, assess the same, and judge the same.  In fact, the only way that this tool would work is if we did all teach the same, assess the same, and think the same.  And if the tool is mandated (which is highly likely) we will be mandated to teach, assess, and think the same.

They are striving for a system where a child can exit one school and enter another one (armed with his/her number) and the teacher can keep going from the point where his other teacher left off.

For this to really happen we would have to coordinate it so that we all taught the same stuff at the same time.  For example, I have horrific visions of being mandated to all fill in the 'addition rubric' by term two all in the name of consistency or, even worse, the government then produces consistent resources (on the N4L) so that we are consistent in the way we teach too.  How cool would that be? NOT COOL AT ALL!

The other thing that alarms me is the complete lack of student voice and co-construction in this tool.  It seems that the tool is for Teachers, Parents and the Government.  It is assumed that teachers do the assessment to the children.  This is a rather old fashioned view. We have started assessing by giving students ownership of the task. Students identify and capture their own progress and bring it to the attention of the teachers.  Not the other way around. You see, assessment drives the way we do things.  If students drive the assessment, they drive their learning.  Or, if we are using rubrics, we will teach to the rubrics. We'd be mad not to if we consider:

In terms of the comparisons you mention, PaCT will enable this, because it will be possible to measure how much progress, on average, a class of students make in a given year.

The progress captured by the PaCT tool that is.  Not any other kind of progress.  This is horrendously problematic in the Primary School environment.  Where will the motivation be to teach the non core-curriculum subjects if they will not be considered in the 'overall progress' of your class in a given year?  It also assumes that there are 'classes' of children taught by one teacher over a year.  Do these academics know that many of us are team teaching in open learning environments over multiple year levels?  I dont think they do.

This exorbitant tool is not sustainable - as I have shown above the assumptions underpinning it are already dated.  

The consultation process is an embarrassment.  Check out this little beauty where we have been asked important questions like what colour we would like the tool to be.  https://pact.intuitionhq.com/progress-and-consistency-tool-or-pact BUT do be aware that "if you have a strong aversion to the PaCT tool... leave the feedback to those with a different opinion".  Oh, really?

I tried to stand up for us but unfortunately got cautioned for "pissing people off".  All I wanted was the ministry to consider a less standardised more flexible, assessment programme.  An assessment system that can be tailored to different communities and where all aspects of the curriculum can be measured.


  1. Wow Tara- if this kind of thing really comes in I will certainly be retiring from teaching early and doing something different. Where I teach maths at the moment it is exciting, contextually based maths- and the children are learning heaps. Every teacher is teaching differently. We are not trapped in this kind of assessment hell that dictates conformity. I am too long in the tooth to get caught in hell.

  2. The unspoken agenda behind this, following on from similar developments in USA, is that each child's ranking is centrally stored. It only takes an adjustment to tag each child with her teacher's name, and to mandate set times when the data is to be ended, and hey presto, we have a value added measurement system for teachers.

  3. what I find frightening are the earnest souls engaged in developing this ghastly little tool. They aren't bad people, but have forgotten what real children, real teaching, real environments are like. Two years ago we had a visitor to my school. A gentleman from Japan, he was a senior professor at a university but under his contract, every so many years he had to spend a year out in a school, his year was spent in a school for children with physical disabilities- he was a professor of physics. He said the system kept them from forgetting what children and schools were actually doing, I can think of several names who would benefit from a year spent in a junior classroom.

  4. Tara - your courage and eloquence are unusual and undervalued - if only they were typical qualities, to be found within society as a whole, and within the teaching community in particular and, most importantly, within the leaders of "the sector". (At this stage, I have to tell you of my well founded suspicion, that people who use that phrase (ie "the sector"), in every second paragraph of their conversations, are as out of touch with the classroom as it is possible to be. I am not alone, I know, in valuing and appreciating your inquiring nature. Isn't it perverse - that so many of the so called "leaders" who devise such strategies, quite happily travel the country (and in some cases, the planet) attending conferences and meetings, at which our ideas are expressed much more fully (Ken Robinson, for example), and they tend to nod, sagely - embracing ideas around creativity and innovation - then get back to the office and make decisions that suppress and deny opportunities for the very same.............

  5. What strikes me alot at the moment is that all our efforts are being focused on a paradigm of education before the internet. There is some sort of warped perception that if we track, monitor, observe and formatively assess we are somehow going to be doing the right thing by our kids. We HAVE to do better. But doing better isn't going to come from getting better maths scores.

  6. Lesley, I love the idea that tertiary based people are more engaged and involved in schools in this way.
    Tara, thanks for sharing your view. PaCT seems a restrictive proposition.

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone. Please also see http://blog.teachernz.com/2012/09/16/pact-with-the-devil from @teachernz

  8. I'm saddened though not really surprise about a development like this. This sounds like a system for clones teaching mini clones. The whole move to standard based education, performance pay etc. is just a distraction from the real problem this government does not want to admit or do anything about it - poverty, lack of parenting skills. It's much easier to pretend that clones are teaching the miniclones and punish those that don't have their pupils achieve their extreemely narrow targets. Let's demoralize teachers even more - there won't be many wanting to enter the profession in the future!

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  10. Very informative. I wonder how this would work in a system where NO CHILD Left behind is the way things are going?