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NCEA: United Future’s View

Media statement
For immediate release
Monday, 14 March 2005

NCEA: United Future’s view

United Future leader Peter Dunne and the party’s education spokesman Bernie Ogilvy today launched their constructive view of what should be done about the National Certificate of Educational Achievement.

“Opposition politicians,” they said “ have been quick to publicise problems with NCEA, but solutions have been slow to emerge.

“There is no doubt that recent revelations have undermined confidence in the new system, yet most parties agree that NCEA should continue. If it is to retain and rebuild any sort of credibility, then the current debate must move quickly to focus on fixing the problems.

“United Future already has a track record on seeking to improve NCEA. After the 2002 election we initiated a select committee inquiry into the implementation of the NCEA qualifications system.

“In the 2003 Budget we successfully lobbied for more money for schools and NZQA to implement NCEA, to overcome the deficiencies identified by the select committee inquiry. In last year’s Budget we secured another $66 million over the next four years for schools’ operations grants to help with implementation costs.

“United Future offers some specific, constructive, and common sense solutions to the problems besetting NCEA.

1. Introduce a minimum number of standards for each subject that must be externally assessed.

At present, it is largely up to subject teachers in a school to decide on the mix of internal and external standards that they teach to, meaning that some students may sit no external assessment while others may have all of their performance evaluated through exams. Establishing a minimum number of standards to be assessed externally for each subject will ensure that more of students’ work is uniformly examined against the national standard. This would reduce the workload of teachers, and create opportunities for reassessment without cutting into classroom time. It would also help to discourage students from slackening off once they had passed most of the required number of credits during the year, if they knew that they still had a significant number of credits to pass through external assessment. However, the exams themselves must be also be set an appropriate level that is comparable between subjects, across standards within subjects, and from year to year.

2. Improve communication between examiners and teachers and students on what each achievement standard requires.

Samples of students’ work are periodically sent off to be assessed by an external moderator, to ensure that the task and the achievement standards awarded are appropriate. However, the responses from moderators often indicate that the task set by the teacher either does not adequately assess the standard or that the students have either been marked too leniently or too harshly. This experience has been echoed in end-of-year exams, as students have struggled to meet the standards imposed by examiners. There needs to be far greater clarity about what is required to attain each standard and what differentiates each level of achievement, for the benefit of teachers, students and examiners.

3. Ensure that all assessment tasks provided by NZQA have been pre-moderated.

In some cases, teachers have used tasks provided by NZQA, or slightly adapted versions that have subsequently been slated by moderators as being inappropriate. This is unacceptable, and tasks and exemplars that are specifically made available for teachers’ use must accurately reflect the standard being assessed. Teachers who develop their own tasks should also be able to submit them for pre-testing. There should be assessment tasks and exemplars available for all standards, something that does not occur at present.

4. Increase opportunities for external assessment of students’ work throughout the year

In the interests of ensuring that more of students’ work is assessed against the national standard, the frequency with which it is moderated should be increased. Following moderation there is currently no strict requirement for teachers to adjust their marking accordingly, but the additional feedback that would come from more frequent moderation should help them to adapt their tasks and assessment to the standard with greater ease. Teachers may also be more responsive to this feedback if they know that the moderators work with these standards on a regular basis.

Moderators are generally practising teachers, who moderate in their spare time. To facilitate greater evaluation, teachers could opt to step out of the classroom for a year to moderate full time. This could provide teachers with a break in their career without endangering their continued registration, and would be particularly useful for those who want to take time out to raise a family. Full time moderators would be able to communicate directly with teachers to discuss their feedback, something that does not occur currently, which should also assist teachers to assess to the standard. If there were sufficient numbers prepared to moderate full time, then it might be possible to move to a system where some standards may be externally assessed during the year, as well as at the end of the year. This could help ease the pressure on teacher workloads while helping to maintain the goal of a national standard.

5. Establish consistent policies on reassessment

One of the purported benefits of achievement standards is that they may enable students who have failed a standard, or even those who have not performed as well as they would have liked, to re-submit their work and be reassessed. However, there has never been a clear policy on under what circumstances this reassessment should take place. The ability to reassess a standard depends on the time available for teachers to do so, and the nature of the task. There needs to be a clearer and consistent policy across schools and subject areas regarding reassessment, to ensure that fairness is maintained.

6. Ensure that the time allotted to complete externally assessed exams is appropriate to the number of standards that students are sitting

A student sitting three standards in an external exam has the same time as a student sitting one standard, which is clearly inequitable. The time allowed for exams should depend on the number of standards that students are sitting.

7. Ensure that student records of learning show those standards that students failed, as well as those they achieved

Individual records of learning only show those standards that the student actually achieves, and not those that they attempt but fail. One of the advantages of NCEA is that it provides much richer information about what a student is actually capable of, but in order to get a complete picture it’s just as important for prospective employers to know what students can’t do, as well as what they can do.

8. Return scholarship exams to their previous format

Standards based assessment is designed to focus on individual achievement, yet the notion of a separate scholarship examination system is to find out who the top students are for each subject, which requires their results to be compared and ranked. In order to do this, and to account for some exams that may be harder than those for other subjects or those in previous years, scholarship exams should revert to being norm-referenced and therefore enable results to be ranked, and if necessary, scaled. This should not jeopardise NCEA assessment because the scholarship exams are separate, and they more closely approximate the kind of assessment practices undertaken at university, where most scholarship student are likely to go.

9. Review the appropriateness of the four levels of achievement standards, as well as the number of credits awarded to each standard.

There is concern that the current levels of achievement (Not Achieved, Achieved, Achieved with Merit, Achieved with Excellence) are too broad, and can capture a wide range of ability within a level (particularly Achieved). There is also concern that students are opting for unit standards because they are perceived to be easier, yet the fact that they do not offer awards in merit and excellence may mean that some students may be denying themselves the opportunity to achieve at higher levels. In addition, the credits available for each standard should reflect the work involved, particularly when compared across subject areas.

10. Engage in a public education campaign to ensure that parents, students and employers understand the NCEA system

The current debate surrounding the perceived deficiencies of NCEA is not assisted by a general lack of understanding of how the system is supposed to work. Much more work needs to be done to demystify the system and simplify the language used.


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