The Strange Case of UK Naric and Accelerated Christian Education
Following Monday’s revelations, this is another very important blog post. Again, please share this where you can; this is important news. There’s a “too long; didn’t read” bullet point list at the end for the terminally lazy or pressed-for-time.
As I’ve already written, UK Naric has approved the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE), advanced certificate, as equivalent to A-level standard. This is surprising because, until now, every academic review of the curriculum has been extremely critical. Even Christians agree on this.
Naric said in 2009 their report would be made available on request. Since then, they have refused to make it public, saying it is an “in-confidence commercial document.”
Naric’s first benchmarking study was paid for by a school that uses the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, on which ICCE is based. ICCE Ltd paid for the second benchmarking itself. Naric has not answered questions on whether this presents a conflict of interests.
This all seems unsatisfactory. If Naric’s reports can’t be made public, how can they be properly scrutinised for fairness and accuracy? This is also a loss to the academic community, who could use these reports in further research. In the case of ICCE, it is an acute loss, since there has been no independent research into the qualification whatsoever.
Naric, run for the government by private company ECCTIS Ltd., is not subject to Freedom of Information requests. It seems to me that this is a problem. The incentive to make a profit is at odds with the need for transparency. Naric has refused to answer my questions on how it benchmarked ICCE, saying the time required to answer would cost them too much money.
Here’s a history of the academic community’s research on Accelerated Christian Education, the fundamentalist curriculum at the heart of ICCE. As you’ll see, no one’s ever had anything good to say about it. And I’m not leaving stuff out that contradicts my views; there just isn’t much pro-ACE feeling in the academic world.
The Alberta Department of Education (that’s in Canada, geographically-challenged readers) commissions a thorough review into Christian private schools programmes. Highlights include:
“From the perspective of the PACEs, the content of virtually every ACE course/ program is presented almost entirely at the knowledge or recall level.”
“There are far too few examples in the ACE curriculum materials where students are called upon to exercise their creative powers, to be original and to develop critical thinking skills.”
The “knowledge or recall level” is a reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy, an educational model in which there are levels of learning that build from the lowest, recall, up to understanding, then application, analysis, synthesis (relating concepts to create new knowledge), and evaluation. It is these higher-order thinking skills that good secondary education promotes. The Alberta reviewers were saying that ACE, most of the time, does not even attempt to develop these skills.
I have already discussed Fleming and Hunt’s curriculum review of ACE, which concluded:
“If parents want their children to obtain a very limited and sometimes inaccurate view of the world – one that ignores thinking above the level of rote recall – then the ACE materials do the job very well. The world of the ACE materials is quite a different one from that of scholarship and critical thinking.”
Sociologist Susan D. Rose studies an ACE school intensively over a two-month period, and reports on the experience in her book, Keeping Them Out of the Hands of Satan. In it, she writes:
“ACE is a model for individualized instruction, but it does not encourage independent learning. Curricular choices are made from fixed alternatives; supplementary materials are censored and limited. The curriculum allows little room for individuals to raise questions or to explore answers to the questions asked.”
“They are task and content oriented, wanting their children to know specific pieces of information. This is manifested in the emphasis on recitation rather than interpretation, and in the objective testing (multiple choice, true-false, fill-in-the-blank) that characterises ACE.”
“ACE students should be well-prepared to digest ‘how-to manuals’ but less well prepared to write essays and ask critical questions. In fact, in a comparison of essays that I asked the 6th and 7th graders to write, the essays of [ACE] students were significantly shorter, less detailed, less well organised, and more restricted in vocabulary. A super-intendent of children’s education in a large Christian organization indicated that ACE students had difficulty making the transition to other curricula, whether Christian or secular, because they could not handle the breadth of material.”
“The intent of those using ACE materials is to control the thoughts and articulations of students and to censor the kinds of information they are exposed to. ACE manuals instruct teachers and students alike that all the answers lie within the text – no discussion is needed… By purifying the curriculum, they are also simplifying the curriculum in ways that may make it difficult for their children to be able to question and evaluate ideas that they may be exposed to later on.”
To be fair, Rose does praise some aspects of the environment of the ACE school, but of the curriculum itself she raises no positive notes.
Hope Elkins completes a PhD at Indiana University, and her thesis discusses ACE. It’s cited extensively in Lisa Kelley’s 2005 EdS thesis at Marshall University. According to Kelley, Elkins noted “an excessive emphasis on factual information at the expense of problem solving and critical thinking.”
Kelley summarises Elkins’ criticisms thus:
“ACE does not allow for controversial subject matter, nor does it allow for open discussions of modern events and issues. PACEs do not illicit thought-provoking questions from the students, but rather encourage students to simply find all answers within the materials… Elkins stated that the subject matters are limited and students are presented with nothing more than educational minimums that are intertwined with material that overemphasizes obedience and complacency to authority.”
Professors Cathy Speck and David Prideaux write in the Australian Journal of Education:
“The reality of [ACE’s] individual progression is that each child works alone in a carrel on a series of low-level cognitive tasks, mostly consisting of association and recall activities and always in a workbook format.
“The PACE workbooks are based on a learning methodology which uses rote memory techniques. Absent are the current broader methodologies essential to encouraging speculation about the world and the human condition. Speculative methodologies, such as laboratory and field work, group activities, inquiry learning, and research investigations which are integral to the teaching of the humanities, sciences and the social sciences for example, are absent.”
“Although the science topics in the ACE curriculum catalogues may appear to represent a quasi-scientific program, there are a number of problems with the actual presentation of the content. These include the lack of objectivity, the corresponding creation science bias and the lack of problem solving in the reading comprehension approach to PACE work.”
“Students being taught social studies and science and like subjects in ACE schools are suffering educational disadvantage, in that they are being denied access to the basic and accepted concepts, issues, and knowledge in those curriculum areas… Students in the ACE schools similarly are in a situation of conceptual and cognitive disadvantage.”
Professor David Berliner of Arizona State University weighs in with his address to the American Psychologist Association, “Educational Psychology Meets the Christian Right.” He is unequivocal in his denouncement of ACE, saying, “The work consists of low-level cognitive tasks that emphasize simple association and recall activities… Nearly all speculative activities about the world and the human condition have been purged from the curriculum.”
Frances Paterson completes a review of curricula from A Beka, Bob Jones University, and ACE. In her book Democracy and Intolerance, she writes, of the curriculum:
“It is fundamentally contrary to reproduction of democratic governments because it impedes students’ ability, as adults, to deliberate critically.”
“I would be remiss if I did not raise the possibility that prolonged exposure to a curriculum dominated by books that foster resentment toward government and strong and unequivocal condemnation of people with different political, social, and religious beliefs may well have a deeply corrosive effect.”
Lisa Kelley’s aforementioned EdS thesis compares the results of one ACE school with a nearby public school. “Overall, the ACT scores of the ACE graduates were consistently lower than those of the public school students.”
Something positive for ACE! Jacqui Baumgardt’s master’s thesis for the University of South Africa has good things to say. This is not surprising; Baumgardt was an employee of Accelerated Christian Education. At the start of her thesis, she thanks “the leadership of Accelerated Christian Education Ministries South Africa, who made it possible.”
Baumgardt finds that a self-selecting sample of ACE graduates who went on to higher education generally feel positive about their experience of ACE. It’s trenchant stuff.
NOW THE IMPORTANT PART.
UK Naric approves the International Certificate of Christian Education. In a statement at ACE’s European Student Convention, ICCE chief executive Brenda Lewis says that the study was paid for by Morning Star, an ACE school. Can you say “conflict of interests”? The first positive academic review of ACE in history, and it turns out it was funded by an ACE school.
I write to Naric and point out that their finding runs contrary to the rest of the academic community.
It also says that “a copy of Naric’s report can be made available upon request.” I immediately request to see this report, and am refused, on the grounds that Naric will be doing a second, more thorough benchmarking exercise.
Naric completes the second benchmarking exercise, again approving ICCE. As soon as I learn of this, I write and request the new report. I receive the reply:
“Although the newsletter contains a summary of key findings for our projects, project reports are commercial-in-confidence documents.”
Then why did Naric’s press spokesman write in 2009 that a copy of this report would be available on request? In any case, this is a problem: If Naric’s report is not public, how can it be scrutinised? What moderation processes is Naric subject to? This seems a loss to the academic community, to say the least. ACE has had very little academic attention in the last 30 years, and hardly any in the last 10. Naric’s evaluation is of great interest.
I complained to my MP, who forwarded my complaint to the Department for BIS.
At length, I received a response from BIS, which said little that Naric hadn’t already said online. Except, that is, for the detail that this second study was paid for by ICCE Ltd. What does Naric do to minimise the effects of this conflict of interests? I emailed to ask them those questions.
Their head of projects told me that, having reviewed my past correspondence with them, they had already spent so much time on my questions that they would not be answering any more. In particular, he mentioned that responding to BIS had taken up a lot of their time. I got the sense he was irked at me. I was also surprised he said answering BIS had taken so long, since they provided minimal new information.
However, Naric did indirectly address some of my criticisms in the remarks they make public:
“Furthermore the ICCE Ltd have developed the curriculum components of each of the ICCE qualifications to include individual and group learning activities, and crucially, compulsory extended essays and projects designed to develop and test higher order thinking skills. It is important to note therefore that the UK NARIC benchmark assessments apply to the individual ICCE awards and not the ACE curriculum materials in isolation.”
So it’s not ACE they’re accrediting; it’s ICCE. And they acknowledge ACE’s weaknesses with higher-order thinking skills by emphasising the importance of additional essays.
The reviewers at the Alberta Department of Education were skeptical that ACE could be brought up to scratch in this way:
“A number of deficiencies have been identified in the ACE curriculum materials. Whether these defects are or can be remedied through classroom instruction could not be determined in this review. However, in the opinion of reviewers, major teacher interventions would be required to overcome the problems noted.”
Speck and Prideaux were even more doubtful:
“Although some ACE schools may add practicals to PACE work, these are inadequate as a method of teaching the skills of science as they are not fully integrated into the process of teaching and learning science. The PACEs themselves do not foster the skills of science.”
So what’s the assessment weighting? Are students in the ICCE doing tons of extra work to make up the gaps in the PACEs? They are not.
Colleagues have obtained for me a copy of ICCE’s syllabus, and a copy of the information on ICCE from the Naric database. From this, it’s still not entirely clear what the assessment weightings are. Naric refers to “credits”, and say the ICCE general certificate requires eight; ICCE refers to units, and lists a total of 18 units for the same certificate. Work that out.
Let’s assume Naric has it right – they say the general certificate is 8 credits, of which the essay and science project are 0.5 credits each. By that measure, the ICCE general certificate is 88.5% ACE.
In addition to their ACE studies, ICCE general certificate students must complete an ICT course, a 1000-word essay, and a science project. The nature of this project is not defined, but since it has to be something home schoolers can complete, we’re obviously not talking about controlled fusion (which is good, because ACE denies fusion exists).
By comparison, students must complete, according to ICCE’s guidelines, 13-15 units of PACEs (Packets of Accelerated Christian Education). One unit is 12 PACEs. I am skeptical that a two-page essay and growing some crystals can compensate for 156 workbooks of rote learning.
Of course Naric’s report might prove me wrong. Which is why it’s a shame they won’t let anyone see it.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
- UK Naric has validated a fundamentalist qualification
- The academic community is united in condemning this qualification
- The makers of the curriculum paid for Naric’s review. This is a bit fishy.
- Naric has refused to answer questions on its methods, and its report is not in the public domain
- Naric is not subject to Freedom of Information, because it’s run as a private company
Additional Detail Which Is Relevant But Which Was Left Out Of The Main Report To Avoid Getting Bogged Down:
The letter from BIS also said that Naric’s report is “pending an in-depth review of the international quality assurance processes and delivery later this year.” It implied the report might be published after this.
There’s also this:
“In 2011 ICCE Ltd. asked UK NARIC to review all its subject areas, and they report that as part of the study some issues were observed with the comparability of the Biology programme, which were reported back to ICCE with recommendations on the redevelopment of certain aspects of the programme to ensure closer comparability with the A and O level qualifications.”
This makes me laugh. “Dear Creationists, we’ve approved your Biology curriculum, but we recommend that you include evolution in future.” That sounds like advice ICCE will definitely take.
Posted on June 29, 2012, in Accelerated Christian Education, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged Accelerated Christian Education, ACE, Critical thinking, ICCE, Naric, School of Tomorrow. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.