The NCEA Review tells us (again and again) that “we are making improvements.” But they cannot explain why a qualification that is working well for a wide range of students needs to be changed. Usually the students who will suffer are again the ones that were left behind by previous systems of assessment.
If NCEA needs seriously new forms of calibration and content then why does the growth of evidence seem to show that NCEA has features that commend it over the old tired methods of assessment. NCEA is a qualification that does not have, nor does it need, the complex and mysterious machinations that were unintelligible to parents and caregivers. The key stakeholders – parents, caregivers and students – were shut out of understanding previous systems of awarding success and how success was rationed. Why do so many back-room educators strive to return to those days? If these people were to get out among the students they would learn that NCEA works largely because the students know what they need to do to succeed.
Recently released statistics for trades academies which are based entirely on NCEA, showed Manukau Institute of Technology, which has been offering trades academies for as long as they have existed, had success rates in 2019 for students gaining 80% of the credits they entered that were pleasing: Pakeha 93.1%, Pacific 81.4% and Maori 78.2%. The Trades Academies at MIT are mature and well-tuned to maximising the advantages of NCEA.
Research shows that students in trade academies will say, slightly over-egging the situation, that NCEA is better because you always know what you are supposed to do, and you get credit when you successfully show that you can do it. On the other hand they characterise their schooling, in fairness not quite doing justice to the programme, that in school they seldom know what to do and why they are doing it, they do it because they are told to.
But there is more to this. Students through the applied learning use of NCEA develop early a sense of purpose and along the seamless pathway can get a line of sight to employment.
Why cannot the review deal with the real issues that resulted from the difficult birth that NCEA had?
- There is no need to have multiple levels of pass in standards- based system. The mantra of Achieved, Merit, and Excellence drafting gates were a sop to conservative opinion of some members of the Principals Lead Group in the early 1990s. It greased the path to introducing a new award that replaced the old.
- Why must students waste time and lose traction by only doing NCEA Level 1 in Year 11, NCEA Level 2 in Year 12, and NCEA Level 3 in Year 13? Students can easily work at their own pace and under-takework across sevealr levels simultaneously. There are isolated instances of this in some institutions.
- Why must changes be made to Level 3 which are not based on the needs of most students who exit after Level 3? The University of Auckland will this year it is reported, not base entrance to university on NCEA to the extent that it has in the past. They might find that their own methods of assessing students’ academic preparation better and more appropriate!
- What is the rationale behind considering a move to separate Literacy and Numeracy from the subject oriented credits? Literacy and Numeracy require real substance-based around real intellectual activity. Literacy and Numeracy are terms that describe fluency in clusters of cognitive activity that happen to be called language and mathematics. Experience tells us that students who are steeped in cognitive activity across a wide range of subjects have no difficulty in reaching NCEA literacy and numeracy targets.
Now, there are four issues that a review might grapple with and in doing so actually improve NCEA.