Now there’s a recent McKinsey report which has been released, looking at the twenty countries in the world who have actually made improvement in terms of progress and sustained it, and they have looked at the range of things that these countries have done to take them from, say, good to great, or great to excellent and having a clear curriculum and set outcomes that allows schools to contextualise it in their community is one of the things. So we’ve done that.
The next thing we’ve done is we’ve developed standards, now interestingly enough McKinsey says this is another key thing that you need to have in your system, but the way that we’ve developed them has been a little bit different to the rest of the world. So we’ve learnt from countries like the UK and the United States who incidentally have dropped back in PISA this year, who introduced a national testing regime with their standards.
There were three approaches we could have taken. The first one is we could have introduced a national test, and cut scores. So if you get 40 to 60 you’re roughly at the standard, above 60 you’re fine and below 40 you’ve got a bit of a problem. We didn’t do that for a number of reasons. We looked at countries like the States and England and we found that they were getting a short term lift. To get that they focused their teaching on the test and narrowed the curriculum they drilled their students and then their results plateaued off.
The second way we could have done it was by setting lists of criteria. Here’s the ten things you have to be able to do in maths by the age of eight. And if you can do eight or more of those things then you’re doing really well, you know, sort of mid range - fine and if you can only do two or three then you’ve got a problem. Now when you think about 21st century learning, yes, it’s about being able to have particular knowledge and skills but it’s about being able to put them together in different contexts and different problems some you’ve never met before - so it’s not enough to be able to do them in isolation in a classroom under certain conditions. So, while our standards have criteria in them, we didn’t take that approach either.
The third approach is actually to have descriptions of what you are looking for in each year at each year, so what does that actually look like, so you have a description in words students have to be able to read these texts they have to be able to read the words, understand what they’re reading and think critically about it. So what does that look like for a six year old? A seven year old? And so on. You provide examples of what it looks like or exemplars and they are your anchor points. You still have some tests, you still have some criteria but the overall judge is the teacher. The teacher sees that child over time, over different conditions and they will be the one who knows best how that child is doing in relation to applying that learning to different situations. And that’s what 21st century learning is about.