Showing posts with label national curriculum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label national curriculum. Show all posts

Monday, January 31, 2011

National Curriculum confusion reigns

National curriculum continues to be a source of confusion for teachers. New words such as engage (have a look at it), implementation (sort of run a class with it) and significant implementation (meaning whatever you want it to but it needs to be done by 2014 in WA and 2013 everywhere else). Never mind that curriculum description dot points are vague even to DoE experts.

If you manage to implement something by getting past inhibitors in your school you then have to decide how to grade what you have done. Proper grade descriptors are non-existent, vague C grade descriptors give little idea what an A or a B is. Administration are scared witless that any implementation will impact negatively on NAPLAN scores, especially where they have been good in the past.

Overcoming the urge to use classroom distributions as solutions for behaviour management problems threatens academic programmes. Small class cohorts gives fewer opportunities to distribute difficult students between classes. Teachers need to closely examine classlists to ensure that troublesome or low ability students are found classes to which they can perform. Finally we have some acceptance that heterogenous classes with wide distributions are not optimal teaching or learning environments.

I read the dreaded innovative solutions mantra for the first time this year in a department missive. Give me a solution or identify an opportunity to solve a problem. The wait and see at the moment is becoming generational.

It seems ok for a whole school to get D's and E's if that's all the students can produce despite their best efforts. Just create an alternate school based criteria to distribute to parents at the same time.

The frustrating thing is that NCOS is working ok and this new system is degenerating into a debacle of epic proportions. Yay for our minister putting on the brakes a little. It will be interesting to see how the final implementation is delayed again if ACARA can't get a handle on this monster.

The only positive out of all of this is a push for more academic classes and more protection and attention for our gifted students. For this at least we can be thankful.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

National Curriculum in High School

The implementation of national curriculum in WA is fast becoming a farce. It lacks coherent leadership and information is not reaching teachers in a timely manner.

I'm not sure who we are supposed to be listening to or what the correct pathway is for our kids.

Some of the emerging issues.

  • WA & Queensland have year 7 in primary making it difficult to implement subject specialisation (such as requirements for science labs in science and adequately trained mathematics teachers for geometry and algebra courses)
  • The deadline for substantial implementation is two phased with all states other than WA set for 2013 and WA for 2014.
  • A definition for substantial implementation is required. It is not clear whether substantial implementation means k-10 will be implemented by the deadline (eg, for high school: staged over four years - yr 7 2011, year 7,8 2012, yr 7,8,9 2013 and 7,8,9,10 2014) or that schools will have programmes ready to start implementation by the deadline set (do we just sit in secondary schools and hope that primary feeders have it all sorted out so that we can start in 2014??).
  • Detailed curriculum documents and sample assessments have not been released, with state agreement for the curriculum dot points only happening last week.
  • Agreement on how to handle deficiencies across primary and secondary school boundaries have not been finalised. As found in the WA implementation of OBE this is indeed a real issue with grading standards vastly different across each segment (remember level 3 mathematics anyone??)
  • Urgency within the secondary segment has not occurred and a watch, wait and see mentality exists - and rightly so given the amount of change thus far.
  • Preparation for NAPLAN (being a key metric for school performance) is causing issues disrupting year 9 curriculum with half to all of term 1 being dedicated to NAPLAN preparation.
  • NAPLAN itself becomes an issue for WA as NAPLAN will be attached to National curriculum objectives and as WA will lag in national curriculum implementation we would expect WA to lag in NAPLAN results also (for a considerable time as other states will continue to improve in their understanding of national curriculum objectives whilst WA grapples with implementation and the required modifications in primary and lower secondary).
  • With declining NAPLAN scores, this has the potential to further exacerbate the decline of student enrollment in state schools as parents view poor results as further reason to enter private schools where students are already on national curriculum, having access to specialist teachers and materials in year 7.
  • It is unknown how to grade students. C Grade standards have the potential to relegate low SES schools to D & E's for all students and provide ongoing failure for our students. This is not fair nor equitable. It is also unknown what an A student looks like. Direction here is required and it is a real pitfall for early adopters.
  • Independent public schools are also affecting staffing equations in low SES areas as teachers are being poached to IPS schools and EIP's are being parachuted into these positions. This movement of experience restricts schools ability to respond to national curriculum objectives.
  • As public schools shrink in size their ability to manage content, subject and student knowledge becomes much more difficult with the loss of redundancy (more than one teacher able to teach a topic) and subject selection (fewer subjects are offered or schools are forced to distance education or busing solutions). The size of a school places the burden of implementation on a relative few (as it did during NCOS implementation) at a time where schools are feeling staffing stress both in administration and teaching roles.
It is not a good equation. At least with the OBE farce behind us, we should be better equipped to handle this one.

Click here for previous posts on national curriculum.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

April Fools Joke - Not!!!

Today I had a look at the expected standards "C grade descriptors". This document outlines the requirements of a C grade for a student yrs 8-10.

"The descriptors have been informed by population testing data [NAPLAN], draft national curriculum materials and the professional knowledge of experienced teachers. During the consultation process teachers strongly supported the production of concise descriptors and welcomed the inclusion of examples." Department of Education April 2010.

The issue is that the end product was written devoid of common sense.

Here is an outline of the expectation for year 9 students from the C grade descriptor document.

"By the end of Year 9, students use number and algebra to solve routine and non-routine problems involving pattern, finance, rate and measurement including the calculation of area of triangles, circles, quadrilaterals and the surface area and volume of prisms, pyramids, cones and cylinders. They solve problems using Pythagoras’ Theorem and proportional understanding (similar triangles and the tangent ratio). They have a sound understanding of linear functions and are developing fluency with using quadratic and simple non-linear functions, such as with patterns involving doubling. They have a sound understanding of index laws pertaining to positive integral powers."

My issue is that this is a C grade description. The number of students with "sound" understandings of linear functions (by my definition of sound) during year 9 is minimal and students that have a conceptual notion of quadratic and other functions at this stage are the "A" students that have been extended - not the C students. In fact given this description it would be difficult to give many C's or even a single A in many state schools.

If students entered high school have some algebraic knowledge, they may have some chance at reaching this standard. At present I would suggest that this is highly unlikely. As students delivered by national curriculum are 5 years away - starting assessment now at a national curriculum level is ludicrous.

It is obvious the scope and sequence has been modified to include national curriculum requirements (look for the * in the scope and sequence). You can see that linear functions was the main focus of year 9 and then quadratics and 'other functions' were dumped into the sequence with little consideration given as to how time will be found to implement the new curriculum especially as it was hard to fit in the old curriculum (I sat and wrote a lesson by lesson plan for year 9 based on the old scope and sequence and challenge anyone to do the same on the new scope and sequence given the current entry point of students in year 8).

I have no problem with lifting the bar for students, but it requires time to re-instill work ethic at a younger age and subject specialists having access to these students.

To grade students that have not been adequately prepared for national curriculum assessment is grossly unfair. How anyone could propose this for semester one grading 2010 indicates a lack of understanding of the change management required. Either schools will need to fudge grades (easy to spot when comparing NAPLAN to school grade) or masses of students will not get grades higher than a D or E.

When teaching students in low literacy settings, handing out D & E grades to students trying their utmost to succeed is tantamount to child abuse. It is demoralising, unfair and sets up an expectation of failure. I can't say this in stronger words. Someone needs to have a good think about what is being done to our children.

Link to national curriculum media release (Julia Gillard)
Link to expected standards (Department of Education)
Link to mathematics scope and sequence (Department of Education)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Issues with national curriculum

Today at a PD of five secondary schools and their mathematics teachers, we had a quick look at the national curriculum. As an upper school teacher, the demands of teaching upper school are significantly reduced under national curriculum with many upper school courses being pushed back into middle school and a lot of middle school algebra pushed into primary school. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing.

Strengths that were raised by presenters were that it was put together by experts, that the course was being simplified (would contain less material with more depth), that when questioned by parents for course suitability teachers could point to the syllabus (reducing uncertainty) and that it assisted in course transferability (eg. between states).

The first issue identified by the audience was that it was a one size fits all approach. This means that many students will fail a year and then be unable to do the work in following years leading to students unable to achieve anything higher than a 'D' causing reduced motivation and higher instances of behavioural issues (for this reason alone I will re-iterate that anything other than normalised grades in classes is a poor solution).

The second issue was that for at least 5 years students will not have the capacity to complete middle and upper school mathematics as there are a considerable number of missing attributes in our current curriculum. Students taught under the current system will not be able to effectively participate under the new system without extensive remediation especially in operations and algebra. Given that this remediation needs to occur during an 'increasingly packed' lower school curriculum this is unlikely to occur.

The third issue relates to WA primary extending to yr 7 (resulting in a lack of specialist mathematics teachers in year 7) and primary schools being ill equipped to teach pre-algebra and algebra. Given the number of students that currently enter yr 8 'algebra ready' I tend to concur that this is a problem that could be solved by national curriculum (although nobody is saying how this will occur). I have no idea how long it will take for texts to be prepared and primary teachers upskilled to be able to present the material, but it will be longer than the current implementation date of 2011. No allowance for upskilling has been allocated to schools in low performing NAPLAN states WA, QLD, TAS and NT where the current curriculum is less rigorous due to population and historical factors.

The fourth issue relates to endpoints mapped in the current NCOS of study for year 12. Under the current plan there will be little requirement for 1B-2C as students will theoretically be well past the 2C benchmark if they successfully complete the yr 10 national curriculum. This caused some laughter and raised the more important point that we really need a range of courses 8-10 (focus, intermediate, advanced) to cater to a range of student abilities and to stream courses into NCOS subjects.

The fifth issue related to students in low SEI areas, where developmental lag is a real factor. The new curriculum has the potential to completely destroy students chances of catching up over the schooling years as students with a poor starting point are more likely to fall further and further behind as each year progresses. Furthermore, there is no allowance for students in current cohorts that are six months behind due to starting age differences between the states.

The sixth issue is that population size has to be a factor in determining the best course for a state. It will be harder for smaller states to generate the critical mass for harder courses, as the geographical aggregation of higher socioeconomic students is going to be attained in fewer areas. Running courses for 2-3 students is not going to be viable for many schools (especially with the attention on student/staff ratios) although not running these courses has catastrophic effects on staff retention (the best teachers will not go to schools without these courses running), student attraction (students that may have the potential (eg your top 10-15% will go elsewhere) and school morale.

One way to alleviate these issues raised by the group was to start holding students back if they could not meet the standard (eg pass the course with a fair chance of success in following years). This was dismissed as an unlikely solution by presenters although is a common solution in upper school courses.

It was not known by presenters whether accreditation to teach subject areas was being discussed (although that inference that this is a current agenda could be drawn from this media release by Julia Gillard yesterday). It's not a difficult prediction to make that implementation issues will be ignored, blame laid at teachers feet when the implementation fails in WA, QLD, TAS, NT, then an 'accreditation programme' instituted to identify capable teachers to deflect from the real issues listed above and the government policies that created the situation in the first place.

It was put by presenters that teachers had discussed all of this before at the start of (unit curriculum, OBE, 'insert other fad here') and we needed to just roll with the punches and get on with it as we always do. I think this is my main gripe about Julia Gillard, her inability to accept that this is the reality and that change is driven by government - not schools and that poor performance should be laid squarely by policy makers and change agents - not teachers. Furthermore, ill conceived ideas and implementation causes much angst amongst the teacher population and further resistance to change.

I don't think it is that the issues can't be overcome and that national curriculum will ultimately fail but a rushed implementation to political (4 year cycles) rather than educational (12 year cycles) is not appropriate. I still can't understand why this could not have started with a limited rollout and then moved across the country over the following decade using a staged approach. Given the rush for implementation and the suck it and see approach "the acceptance of ongoing failure before we find success", I think that this has the potential to cause a lot of heartache in the short to medium term.

I really hope those with the experience (and will) to guide us through this stand up and be counted. It's not only the students that will suffer in the long term.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dr Constable and the national curriculum

Dr Constable, our state education minister has been conspicuously absent from public education debates with the exception of this week when I read her reply regarding national curriculum impact on WA in The West newspaper.

It was a measured response that outlined the three years of implementation time being allowed, the need for an extended implementation (an extra year) in WA due to the variation between NSW, Vic syllabus and the current WA OBE based curriculum. She also raised issues with year 7 primary vs yr 7 high school, student entry ages in preschool/kindergarten, the lack of specialist teachers in primary and the need for training above normal 'PD' allocations requiring the sourcing of an additional budget for WA.

WA, with a smaller population and different educational requirements, will always have varied results and requirements to the eastern states. Competing with the Eastern seaboard is not statistically possible under the current measuring system.

It was encouraging to see an education minister that at least understood some of the issues faced by national curriculum and someone willing to make an attempt to avoid a head long rush into it. The challenge will be to address some of these issues and prevent these issues being swept under the table along with the children of Western Australia.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Limited trial of National Curriculum.

Again, on a rushed timetable, the government pushes out information that a trial is to be done this year (5 weeks into term). Teachers will be given programmes (at the 11th hour) and the kids will have to deal with a poorly understood curriculum by teachers through no fault of the teachers themselves.

Successful project management is not rushed and has an understanding of as many factors as possible. Head-in-the-sand management is a recipe for disaster. Success becomes a factor of luck rather than good management. Children's futures should not be a part of a recipe for the re-election of the Labor party at the next election. It should be a bipartisan agreement implemented with long term planning and proven methods.

Regardless of any issues with the trial, the national curriculum will be rolled out next year. What is of bigger concern is that senior school curriculum will be rolled out later this year. I really hope senior school curriculum will be given more consideration than the lower school programme as the consequences for university entrance and TAFE integration are far more severe than upper school teachers coping with students who have suffered a partial implementation with gaps in learning.

Theory and practical application are two completely different beasts. To quote that 900 people have been involved in the theoretical design of the curriculum (with little coalface application) is not going to impress. Are these the same 900 people that designed and implemented OBE in WA? I really hope not.

The media release is found here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Julia Gillard and the national curriculum

Yes, schools can change their whole curriculum focus, understand, resource and ensure that assessment is in place for a draft curriculum that will change five times before the end of the 2010. We obviously have learnt very little from the OBE implementation fiasco.

Dear, oh dear. I hope no-one buys her "it'll be all right mate" routine.

Here comes another round of teacher bashing when poor direction from government is the issue. I heard Kevin Rudd accept personal responsibility for the performance of his government. I hope he is willing to take the legal liability for rushing something through that affects so many.

Julia Gillard is again doing something in a political timeframe not appropriate to schools. Again, the children of Australia will suffer the consequences.

Where is the testing and ensuring that it is applicable in states where it is to be implemented? The issues will only become apparent under application, it needs a limited application/trial before rollout. Cynically, this won't be done due to the poor polling results of the Labor party and political necessity rather than good practice.

The sheer arrogance of the rush approach is astounding.

Monday, November 30, 2009

IOTY candidate Peter Hill

Hot on the heels of the last effort to cause prejudice against indigenous students by Julia Gillard, another well meaning idiot tries to load up the curriculum with ill advised nonsense.

Peter Hill suggests that we embed indigenous perspectives into all learning areas and force the indigenous agenda displacing topics with natural and seemless fits. When will these idealists realise that kids can spot an agenda a mile away? Ideas like this cause resentment against indigenous students in the classroom.

If we were talking about increasing indigenous content in History, Geography and English, I could imagine a number of synergistic fits.... but in Maths and science the fit typically is artificial and forced. Can you imagine exploring the chemical composition of the witchetty grub or exploring the physics of the boomerang? How about the mathematics of the dreamtime or health studies on indigenous foods?

Forced topics make poor topics.

In a time where we are trying to free the curriculum of modern agenda's and focus on basic performance, ideas like this should be left behind.

Peter Hill you have earned yourself an Idiot of the Year nomination.