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Consultation reveals a lack of confidence in NCEA

John Gerritsen, Education Correspondent

Consultation over the future of the NCEA has revealed a widespread lack of confidence in the national qualification, support for abolishing exam fees and scepticism about focusing level 1 of the qualification on a major project.

students studying
in a library

Critics say NCEA puts too much focus on assessment instead of learning. Photo: RNZ / Katie Doyle

The Education Ministry today [30 November] published a report summarising public feedback to ideas raised by a ministerial advisory group in May. They included: abolishing exams for level one of the NCEA, introducing major projects at all three levels of the qualification, and cancelling the $76.70 fee for sitting exams.

The report said 84 percent of 6700 people who responded to a quick survey agreed that they understood the NCEA, but only 37 percent agreed that the system worked well.

It said 30 percent were neutral about whether NCEA worked well and 33 percent disagreed with the statement.

"About a third of NCEA students, NCEA graduates, and parents agreed that NCEA works well. This is compared with around half of principals and teachers. Employers had one of the lowest rates of agreement (under 30 percent)," the report said.

However, 51 percent of respondents agreed that NCEA was a valuable qualification, with 25 percent neutral and 24 percent disagreeing.

The report said a smaller survey of 920 people found 71 percent of students and 72 percent of principals liked the opportunity for reassessment of internally assessed standards, but only about half of teachers and parents liked that aspect of the system.

The report said there was also agreement that there was too much focus on assessment rather than learning.

"The year feels broken into disconnected, unrelated "chunks" of assessment, rather than a cohesive learning journey," a student told a focus group for the consultation.

"It's like a video game," wrote another.

"Often students will 'opt out' if they don't think they need the credits and, as a result, can miss whole units of teaching and learning," a teacher wrote in a submission.

The report said some respondents who worked with NCEA said the qualification was not working in the intended way because of pressures such as competition between schools and lack of resourcing.

"It's not NCEA that needs changing, it's how schools are using it. The emphasis should be on support to use NCEA well rather than bringing in another new system. NCEA can do just what we want it to, we just need to use it better," a principal wrote.

The report said most people agreed that NCEA needed less assessment and suggestions included reducing the number of credits required for each level of the qualification from 80 to 60, limiting the number of credits that students could enrol in, and tying credits to completion of a course or subject rather than to individual standards.

Disagreement over internal and external assessment

It said views on internal and external standards were polarised.

"Many students are in favour of reducing external assessment and relying more on internal assessment. They commented about 'cramming' for exams, which they think results in superficial learning that isn't relevant to real life," the report said.

"Other people, including some teachers and employers, told us they would prefer more external assessment as a means of ensuring reliability and consistency of results across settings."

Māori respondents were unhappy that there was less NCEA and subject support for Māori-medium schools than for English-medium.

Pasifika respondents complained that schools directed Māori and Pasifika students away from academic subjects.

"Māori and Pasifika students are achieving a 'different kind' of NCEA than students of other ethnicities," a respondent said.

The ministerial advisory group had suggested reducing level 1 of NCEA from 80 to 40 credits, with half focused on literacy and numeracy and the remainder based on a major project.

The report said few people supported the use of a project at level 1. Many said students were not ready for a high-stakes project at that level, and some said it would work better at level 2 or 3.


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