Grading our Curriculum: Failing students, teachers, and the evidence test
In 2007, New Zealand followed other OECD countries that were adopting open, skills-based curricula designed to prepare learners for the new “knowledge economy.” Since then, many countries have reverted to more content-rich curricula, following mounting evidence that educational outcomes suffer when there is a lack of attention to content knowledge and less coherence within disciplines.
New Zealand’s national curriculum, meanwhile, continues to emphasise high-level competencies and lacks subject matter detail. As a result, there is little common understanding across schools about what students should be taught and when they should be learning it.
In addition, New Zealand lacks standardised testing. There is no feedback loop to help evaluate the success or otherwise of changes to the curriculum or other elements of education.
New Zealand’s ranking in international studies, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), shows that student achievement in maths and literacy began declining following the curriculum’s introduction.
At the same time, the disparity between students has grown. New Zealand now has the largest difference between reading skills of advantaged and disadvantaged students of all English-speaking countries surveyed. While many factors contribute to such trends, OECD countries that have comprehensive and content-rich curricula are also more likely to have better student achievement and more equitable student outcomes.
Curricula that lack specificity also increase the burden placed on schools and teachers to decide what should be taught and how to teach it. Recent research shows that 76% of New Zealand’s teachers are responsible for finding their own instructional materials, and nearly half report having inadequate access to high quality instructional materials.
This not only adds many hours a week to most teachers’ workloads, it also adds variability to the quality of what students are learning and undermines the appropriate sequencing of the content they learn.
Both the curriculum and NCEA—which serves as a de facto curriculum in many secondary schools—are undergoing a revamp. While a more structured pedagogical approach has been promised, educators who have seen early drafts are not convinced that the curriculum’s deficits are being adequately addressed. Whoever makes up the next government have an opportunity to return to a more content-rich curriculum for the betterment of our students, teachers and our society’s future.
Grading our Curriculum: Failing students, teachers, and the evidence test | Maxim Institute Podcast
Researcher Maryanne Spurdle and Communications Manager Jason Heale discuss the shortfalls of New Zealand’s curriculum and the opportunity to return to a more content-rich curriculum for the betterment of our students, teachers, and society.