Getting the best from National Standards

February 2012


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Jenny Poskitt advises teachers how to get to grips with Overall Teacher Judgments, to help them get the best out of National Standards for their students.

The introduction of National Standards has caused a sharp divide in schools, but Massey University’s Dr Jenny Poskitt is rapidly becoming the ‘go to’ expert on how schools can get the best out them.

A key component of National Standards is the introduction of formal teacher assessments of students – Overall Teacher Judgments (OTJs) – which require teachers to assess students and ascertain their achievement in relation to below, at, or above standard.

National Standards focus particularly on a student’s performance in reading, writing and maths. They were introduced in New Zealand in 2010 for students from Year 1 to Year 8. While some schools have embraced them, they have also caused sharp divisions in the profession.

Overall Teacher Judgements (OTJs) require teachers to assess and report on student performance based on formal and informal assessments.

“While this may sound easy, the assessments are complex. They require teachers to draw together a range of sources of information, to come up with a judgment that reports against the national curriculum. The OTJs are expected to be uniform for New Zealand, when children, classrooms and school are extremely varied,” Poskitt says.

She has devised a system to help schools and teachers master OTJs, and get more out of them for long-term school and student performance.

As with any new system, she says, schools and teachers are still working through uncertainty about National Standards and how they fit with the curriculum, time demands in developing and applying OTJs and consistent ways of interpreting them.

Poskitt advises schools to aim for consistency through the following steps:

  • Develop an understanding of what constitutes an OTJ
  • Share and develop, both within the school and with other schools, a common understanding of the National Standards and how they apply to particular curriculum areas
  • Use examples (exemplars) of students’ work that demonstrate when Standards have been achieved to inform understanding and to develop criteria
  • Use moderation (collaboration between teacher groups) to ensure that consistent judgments are being made about students across the school and across subjects.

“If done well, OTJs can be used by teachers and schools to help with professional development, targeting resources for teacher development and student learning.

“Smart schools use the information they get to inform school strategy and planning: where they need to focus resources, including where they need to invest in professional learning for teachers, extra resources and in identifying students who need additional help,” Poskitt says.

“If teachers and schools see this just as an accountability exercise, that is a wasted opportunity. It’s a real opportunity to use the process to enhance professional learning and student achievement,” she says.

She also highlights the fact that her OTJ model can be used regardless of National Standards.

“It is good practice and will help schools and teachers think strategically, think smart, and it can really help develop schools’ learning, strategies and outcomes.”

Her insights into OTJs are now being called on by schools, advisors and institutions to help them work with the new system. Poskitt has presented to schools and teachers’ groups, including at the 2011 New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) regional seminars throughout New Zealand, as keynote speaker to the 7th International Conference of Middle Years of Schooling Association in Queensland in May and the Waikato University Numeracy Conference in July 2011, and various regional associates in New Zealand. Poskitt is also an expert advisor on the Ministry of Education Professional Learning Effectiveness Committee.