Serving time

A school term starts. Back to the traffic issues created by schools (in Auckland anyway) and to the long period of fine weather that the gods seem to hold back until the school holidays are over!

And back to the rigours of assessment – the traditional end to the year.

Back in the late early 1990s after the the Education Act in 1989 had established the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, the education system moved towards a standards-based assessment regime to replace the norm-referenced examination system that had been premised on a deep-seated belief that success should be rationed. The new system would finally allow students to be acknowledged for achievement and this would be able to be accrued at time other than the end of year assessment season.

Twenty years later we still struggle to give full effect to this huge change and we have become stranded in mid-stream so to speak.

Now, the other great promise was that “time served would be dead!” No longer would students have to complete set lengths of time to enter an assessment. This would allow assessments to be flexible and be able to be made at appropriate times when student could demonstrate learning. Those demonstrations could be at different levels and simultaneously so.

And what have we got?

First you must serve 10 years of education before you can have a crack at the assessments. Then you can only dip into Level 1 in the next 12 months, Level 2 in the year after that and Level 3 in the final year. And there is a focus on the external assessment. Wait a minute. Isn’t that the same as we used to have?

Well, yes and no. In terms of the rigidity of the way in which standards-based assessment is made available to students (Year 11 = Level 1, Year 12 = Level 2, Year 3 = Level 3) it is not dissimilar to the old SC / 6th Form Certificate / Bursary routine. We had managed to socialise the new so that it resembled the old. In having to wait until Year 11 to start the qualifications trail it is the same.

But there are also some differences – the focus on assessment throughout the year and the engagement of students in how their work is assessed and what it is worth are different from the old mystery envelope approach.

NZQA is on a journey to provide assessment on line, anywhere and anytime. This is a bold initiative because it will at some point have to confront the practices in school which are not flexible and in their current state probably could not cope with the individual emphasis and freedoms that this development implies.

Making assessment available in the way that NZQA aspires will open the door to some potential developments such as:

·         increased responsibility on the part of students to manage their education journey in terms of accruing the evidence of achievement;

 ·         greater availability of multilevel assessment which avoids making students undertake Level 1 then Level 2 when they can already demonstrate Level 3 competencies;

 ·         offering courses in the senior school that are more modular and shorter in length rather than only a set of year-long subjects;

 ·         allowing students to start earlier and move more quickly in areas of greater aptitude.

There was recently a statement that there could be merit in looking at a national assessment in Year 10. Certainly, it has long been a need for greater focus in that year and even my old school introduced a Form 4 Certificate in 1960! But is there a need for something new? Could not NCEA Level 1 start in Year 10? Many students would relish the opportunity to get on with their qualifications. Of course it has implications for the length of schooling and perhaps many would be moving on to the next stage in their educational pathway earlier than is the current practice.

We need to challenge the use of time in education. I know of only one other institution in our society where you serve time, and even there you get time off for good behaviour!

 

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