Fine-tuning National Standards

This from Stuff:

“A 13-year-old New Zealand boy wants the Government to change the national standards testing system because he says children with learning differences are being set up to fail.
Adam Hodgson has dyspraxia, a condition that affects the planning of his movements and co-ordination.”

Adam Hodgson wrote a well reasoned and succint speech for a competition about how the National Standards performance measuring regime for young children does not cater for those with learning differences. He uses his personal situation as an example:

I know that you are very busy but please hear me out. My name is Adam Hodgson and I go to Westburn Primary School.
I am on my last year there and heading to high school. I have dyspraxia, but why am I telling you this?
Because there has been a lot of media attention about people failing because they are below the national learning standards, I wrote a speech for my school. It was on why we should change the testing systems for national standards for people who have learning differences.
One size does not fit all, especially if it comes to national standards.
Why? . . . Because they do not recognise people like me who learn differently.
I firmly believe that we should change the testing systems for national learning standards to accommodate the needs of people like me who have learning differences.
Dyspraxia is a condition that affects the planning of my movements and co-ordination. It means that sometimes brain messages take longer to transmit to my body. It does not affect my intelligence, but it can cause some difficulty in learning.
So when I am sitting a written test the time that is given me is usually not enough, because I need longer to transmit the messages to make my body write the information down.
When I go to high school next year I will probably be given extra support such as a reader-writer and extra time to sit exams, in order to get more reliable testing results.
Sadly, I have not been given these things at primary school.
I believe that at a time when you want to teach children to love learning, if national standards are to be relevant, this support should be given at primary school to avoid children feeling like they are failures because they are below the national standard.
I am below the national learning standard but does that mean I’m dumb? No, it doesn’t. It just means that the method of testing is not suited to me.
An example of this was in year 6 when we last had the knowledge-a-thon.
I worked hard and knew the answers to the questions and was lucky enough to have a teacher that let me answer the questions verbally. Because of this I got all the answers correct. If I had been required to write the answers, I would not have got the same result.
So you can see that the national standard testing system isn’t giving a fair reflection of what I am capable of doing.
I do know the answers to the questions but I use so much energy to get it down on paper that I either need more time or I need to say it verbally.
If we changed the national standards so that they could be flexible enough to recognise different learning styles, you would have more reliable information and it would build good self-esteem and give confidence to people like me.
It can be frustrating to have dyspraxia or dyslexia but I have discovered that I can be good at lots of things.
I play several musical instruments; I enjoy drawing, and designing things such as houses using a computer program.
At school I am a house leader and am on the student council. These things are possible because I work hard and have received support from my parents, my teachers, tutors and others.
What happens with me in tests is I don’t think I have enough time. I have the answers but I use up a lot of brain power trying to get it all down on paper in time. If it was verbal I would ace it!
I would probably be at the national standard or above.
For all the normal people out there (whatever normal is) be tolerant and understanding because for someone who learns differently it does not mean that they are dumb or stupid, it just means that they get to the answer in a different way.
There are people out there who do understand, but there are some who don’t.
I might not be the best speller or mathematician in the world but give me time, help me and be assured that I will give it my best.
So you can see it is possible for people with a learning difference to succeed. It takes hard work, understanding teachers, and supportive parents.
So just because the national standards say that you are failing certainly does not mean that you are a failure.
There is only one thing that we need to change about the national standards and that is the way we do the testing.
I hope this is of interest to you and by sharing my story I can help make a change to the national standards.
Regards, Adam Hodgson.

My commentary:
 adam is a brilliant high achieving kid who will turn into a well rounded high achieving adult. Good on him.
He is absolutely right about the shortcomings of a National Standards testing regime though he is young, and has only his own experience to call on.
I have heard a number of stories both in New Zealand and in the United States where kids have felt they have been let down by a stringent testing regime.
In New Zealand I know of concerned parents who are told their child is below standard. When they ask what extra help their child will get to take them ‘up to standard’, they are told there is none available. this was the experience of three or four Karori families last year.
I know of a brilliant young lady in the US who has numerical dyslexia. She found no help in standardized testing that is a cornerstone of the Academic Performance Index. She has worked though her difficulties and is now at an Ivy League (East Coast) college.
National Standards could be used as a tool for teachers to assess where students are at.
It could be used by the ministry to assess how proficient teachers are.
But measuring a schools progress on the results of the students puts a huge weight on families and provides no path to success for all the different types of learners.

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