Let’s have a Review, I love music!

It was interesting to read in Ed Insider this week that the Ministry of Education had finally got around to trying to give meaning to the relatively flaccid rounds of consultation in 2018 about NCEA which all the mark of a search for change when it was the pattern, in Charles Payne’s terms of a reform searching for a change to make. 

I wonder if NZQA has been involved in this. I wonder if the outcomes of the Bali Haque soul searching that went on back in 2018 are substantial. I wonder too if those consultations undertaken three years ago, still stand. And was that consultation credible?

I have made no secret of the fact that over the thirty years I have been close to NCEA and know that it has served its purpose of giving credit when a student’s work has shown evidence of competence in this credit-based system that replaced the mad criterion-referenced that rewarded those going to university but did nothing but damage to the rest. Credit can now be given when it is due.

W. Edwards Deming was adamant that “If it was not necessary to make a change, it was necessary not to change.” A pause to reflect on NCEA and the need for change might conclude that it does not require wholesale change.

Some educators and members of the public have not realised that the worm has turned. Thousands of students have shown what a system that gives credit where credit is earned can do. And its use is spread well across the sector. That it is a usefully flexible assessment regime was demonstrated by the Minister in his decision to allocate additional credits during Covid-19. To note that learners can demonstrate learning at a Level should be enough to allocate additional credits especially at Level 1 and Level 2. I wonder about Level 3 which is the launching pad for serious employment-related learning – it is at that point that vested interest of employers cuts in.

We are given reasons why the review is to take place – some comments.

Accessibility: “Well-proven” would not be an exaggeration for the extent NCEA is accepted and accessed by students. 

Status: There is a case for a review of NCEA regarding Matauranga Maori and NCEA both in terms of standards and ensuring that the courses are available. This should not be an issue as there are providers who attend to issues of access.

Literacy / Numeracy: There is no issue with this provided students are equipped with something to be literate and numerate about. Why is it that students leave school to undertake a programme that has applied learning, managed transition, and clear pathways, having struggled with Literacy and Numeracy when it is studied for obvious reason, perform well when the literacy and numeracy standards are embedded in another curriculum? Study of material presented for no obvious reason is pointless, as experience has sadly demonstrated.

Fewer larger standards: Some people get excited about the size of standards. In truth it is less of an issue in terms of size but, more importantly, each standard should have a coherence and integrity and encompass a skill, or skills, that make sense and leads to a sound demonstration of learning.

Simplifying the Structure of NCEA: Complexity and gobbledygook are entirely the outcomes that of a system that is low in trust of teachers, that believes that a standards-based assessment regime must have some of the tricks, the smoke, and the mirrors of the previous examination system. NCEA is inherently simple, that is both its efficacy and its appeal. It is time that this was realised and appreciated. Yes, it could be even further simplified but that does not mean the talking in tongues that went on previously.

Clearer pathways to work:  Hallelujah!!! At last, a desire to comment NCEA to the real world of work and employment. Well, this need not wait for great soul searching and the development of theories and plans. It is already well and truly embedded in Trades Academies known both formally and formerly known as Secondary/Tertiary Programmes. Yes, its really true, right now in 10,250 students are engaged in NCEA in 2021. In the period such offerings have existed (2011 to 2020) approximately 45,000 unique students have had substantial success and high progression rate to employment and/or further education and training.

Keeping NCEA Level 1 optional: This is good news. When the steps on the ladder start with a large step upward the chance of reaching the second step is diminished. Many students need the encouragement, the taste of success and affirmation of their ability. 

Minister Hopkins provided a wonderful example of the flexibility of NCEA during the Covid-19 lockdowns when he created additional credits which rewarded resilience credits for students recognising that students had through the trials and tribulations of the pandemic, demonstrated additional learning. The world did not come to an end.

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