NCEA must not be distorted!

So NCEA is to undergo a major review and guess what, the end point of all this fuss will look more like the past than the future! For instance, there is to be a renewed focus on subjects.

I was not aware that there had not been any diminished focus on subjects. That is the main issue in relating school programmes to anything other than preparation for university where study is largely subject based but not exclusively so, and certainly, they have introduced subjects that are multidisciplinary in their focus. Something that schools have found to be difficult because of the tyranny of subjects in their pigeon holes. The close collaboration between schools and tertiary education providers is well-advanced. An estimated 100,000 school students have in the past decade studied in secondary/tertiary programmes at tertiary providers.

This was made possible by the introduction of NCEA and will be threatened by the intended changes. The important connection between a standards-based secondary school qualification and the standards-based qualification of the tertiary sector should be understood, valued and supported. The insistence of the review on a 50:50 split between external and internal assessment is simply nonsense. It will be the final dose of glue that cements the NCEA Levels into the senior school years.

It was never intended that NCEA Level 1 should be the curriculum for Year 11, that NCEA Level 2 should be the diet for Year 12 and that NCEA Level 3 should be the final Year 13 at school. People have short memories and the reasons underpinning the development of a modern standards-based qualification for schooling was in large measure a reaction to the iniquitous practices of scaling and the elegant but questionable statistical manipulations that increasingly controlled the outcomes. The cry for 50% external assessment will see over time the same thing happening again.

First freeze programmes into conventional and tradition subjects and then see that the perceived “hard” subjects are rewarded at the expense of the “easy subjects”. This is a classical instance of what happens to education reform – it is not what reform does to schools but rather what schools do to reform as they work to socialise reform changes into patterns, structures and processes that reflect the way they have always worked. And the time-served year/level pattern should have been challenged by the review.

There are programmes that do challenge this. The Tertiary High School at Manukau Institute of Technology has students working in programmes that generate multiple levels of credit, where achieving a level is not an end-of-year ritual and there is wide progression from NCEA into well-regarded qualifications at each higher level up to Level 7 for some (a first degree). It can be done!

It is necessary to do this when the programmes require a skill set that involves a range of educational areas rather than just one subject. Technical areas often require literacy, numeracy, mathematics, science, knowledge of materials and of machinery and so on. These skills need to be demonstrated not one at a time but when being used in an integrated manner to progress a process. Also, some students require their initial learning to be measured out in smaller pieces initially.

Learning is an incremental process and to provide a gentle slope at the beginning  level of education brings with it the aggregation of success. The awarding of differentiated levels – the University Entrance Award and the Vocational Entrance Award – is well-meaning but misleading. Both pathways suggested by the awards are in fact vocational – one achieved through university study and the other through a different applied educational pathway.

The lack of parity of esteem between these pathways is a matter that the professionals and the general community need to come to terms with. The one is not better than the other. A recent study of first degree graduates five years after graduation showed that the vocational awards were outstripping the so-call academic awards. The struggle for NCEA to first gain acceptance, then to be understood by teachers, employers and caregivers, has been an effort.

The Review seems to suggest that much of this work be discarded for a return to ways that are the discredited ways of the past.

One comment

  1. Tish Glasson says:

    A very thought provoking article. Much of it I aren with wholeheartedly. I am an educational professional working with students on multi-level courses including both accedemic and trades academy programmes in their ProgramofLearning. I would hate to se a return to strict subject-based/50% external assessment

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