Scoop Feedback Re Proposed NCEA Changes
"Achievement Standards", (AS) are descriptions of skills or content that the Qualifications Authority publish as either external (i.e. conventional examination) or internal (i.e. practical tests, research assignments) 'chunks' of assessment that schools can use to assess that which is taught.
Recently secondary science teachers have been asked to examine and comment on a new draft "matrix" of AS. This lists the titles of all the proposed new AS and thus constitutes the skeleton on which schools can build courses. The stated timeline for the introduction of this new matrix is described as tight, but I think impossible is more accurate. Submissions close on December 15 and by early February the final version of the matrix and draft Achievement Standards based on this matrix will, we are told, be available. Thus it would seem that between December 15 and the end of January dozens, perhaps hundreds of submissions from teachers all over the country will be read, digested, thought about and acted upon. Clearly there will be no chance for any further consultation once changes (if any) are made before the writing begins. Cynics might be forgiven for thinking that the whole process is timed deliberately to ensure that consultation could be claimed while resulting in the fewest possible submissions, which might then be ignored.
From local meetings and reports of others around the country it would seem likely that the number of submissions will be large, and that the overwhelming majority of them will be extremely negative about the impact of the proposed changes. This is a fundamental change to the way that Science is taught and assessed in our schools, but it is being slipped through at a time of year and in a manner that ensures that hardly anyone outside of the teaching profession knows that anything is happening.
The changes are intended to align Achievement and Unit Standards with the new curriculum and in so doing address credit parity between standards, and ensure consistency, fairness and coherence. Some things have been dictated by the Ministry:
There will be no more than 3 external standards in a 3 hour exam period Unit standards can have Merit and Excellence grades "if the US warrants it". The maximum number of credits undertaken by a student in one subject will be limited to 24.
To say that many teachers are angry about the proposed changes and the manner of their introduction would be an understatement. Some of the issues are as follows:
Where did the magic number three come from with respect to how many Achievement Standards might be assessed in a 3 hour exam? Why should 24 credits be the limit? Many students at my school succeed with 27 or more. If US are to have "Merit" and "Excellence" grades, what distinguishes them from Achievement Standards? Comparability of credit allocation was supposed to improve with this change, yet we have examples such as 4 credits for the carbon cycle (PS 1.4, perhaps 5 hours of teaching) and 5 credits for P1.3 which is effectively all of Y11 physics and would and take in excess of eight weeks! The draft matrix would see a significant increase in internal assessment. Teacher workload if this occurred would discourage teachers from joining the profession and would see some of us planning for earlier retirement. The only reason to move to more reliance on internal assessment would seem to be saving money - by devolving the tasks of designing, running, marking and moderating the assessments on to teachers. Increased reliance on internal assessments would further compromise both the perception and possibly the fact of the validity of assessments. Already NCEA has suffered from schools misusing internal assessments and boosting their grades thereby. The proposed changes would both allow more chance for schools to do this and, even if that did not occur, would further erode public confidence in the system purely because of the possibility. Add to this the issue of moderation of internals and the combination of workload, validity and perception of validity makes increasing the proportion of internal assessment untenable. Flexibility is supposed to increase with the proposed changes, but the number of assessments available in the draft matrix precludes any specialisation into individual branches of science - a possibility that the curriculum document specifically encourages and which has been common in many schools up to now. There are huge discrepancies between the number of credits available in the different strands, with biology being comparatively well served but physics having only one externally assessed Achievement Standard and no Unit Standards at all. Although they should be considered at the same time as other science areas, Human Biology and Horticulture do not appear in the draft matrix at all. No reason has been given for this absence.
After considerable thought and discussion with many colleagues at formal and informal meetings it is my opinion that the underlying flaws in the draft matrix make it impossible to offer constructive criticism and that only a fundamental rethink will be able to address all the problems. In the interest of science education I suggest that the rollout of the draft matrix be delayed by a year to enable sufficient thought, analysis and feedback to occur.