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Enjoyment the key to NCEA students’ subject choice


6 APRIL 2004

Enjoyment the key to NCEA students’ subject choice … as long as it’s challenging and interesting

Year 11 and 12 students studying for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) were less likely to chose subjects that would give them “easy NCEA credits”, instead making subject choices based on enjoyment, challenge and interest.

The findings are detailed in a new study from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) entitled Learning Curves: Meeting students’ learning needs in an evolving qualifications regime. The research outlines findings from the second year of a three-year study into patterns of NCEA related course changes, factors that influenced students’ subject choices, and schools' ability to meet senior students' needs related to those choices.

“Future plans and enjoyment had the most weight in student choice of courses. Other people's views were less important, but where they were, parents had the most influence on student choice,” says NZCER Senior Researcher Rosemary Hipkins.

The research also noted that students were positive about the extra choices available within the core curriculum subjects (English, mathematics and year 11 science) where up to three types of courses were being offered.

“The majority of students are continuing to study ‘traditional-discipline’ versions of these subjects,” says Ms Hipkins. “However, innovative locally-redesigned courses are beginning to appear in some core subjects, most commonly in the arts and technology curriculum areas. These locally-redesigned courses highlight the progress being made in offering students new kinds of knowledge and learning opportunities. Assessment of these courses usually involves a combination of unit and achievement standards.”

Ms Hipkins says the research also showed there was still a perception amongst students and teachers that credits gained from achievement standards (generally a combination of examination and internal assessment) had more value that those gained from unit standards (fully internally assessed subjects).

“This perception appears to be inhibiting a greater level of innovation by restricting the flexible use of unit standards. Unless it is addressed, there is risk that curriculum innovation through the development of new locally-redesigned and contextually-focused courses may be curtailed.”

The research also found that while teacher workloads remained very high, these workloads often became more manageable when schools set aside a time for professional discussion and course development. A range of factors contributed to higher workloads in the NCEA including:
- developing professional knowledge of standards-based assessment
- designing and moderating new assessment tasks
- developing a shared professional consensus about judgements of student work
- redesigning courses
- implementing new administration systems
- contributing to the NCEA implementation at regional and national levels.


This report documents findings from the second year of Learning Curves and is subtitled Shared pathways and multiple tracks. It builds on findings from the first report, From cabbages to kings, which was released in mid-2002.

The research used six case study schools (three in rural towns, three in cities) which were selected to represent a diversity of student groups and contextual settings. The field work took place in April and May 2003. For this latest report, both Year 11 and 12 students were surveyed along with the principal of each school, heads of department from five subject areas, and Year 11 and 12 deans.

The field work for the third and final phase of the research is being undertaken in May / June 2004 with the findings expected to be released before the end of the year.


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