Two more schools have told their students not to bother about getting the first level of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).
Hamilton's new Rototuna Senior High School and established Fairfield College have joined Auckland's four-year-old Hobsonville Point Secondary School, which said two years ago that it was dropping the NCEA Level 1 certificate for its Year 11 students.
Students at all three schools will still do Level 1 courses in Year 11, but they will not enter most of their work for NCEA assessment so that they can spend less time being assessed and more time actually learning.
New Education Minister Chris Hipkins signalled this week that he wanted to encourage all schools to follow suit and not make their students sit NCEA in each of the last three years of high school.
A former chief executive of the NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) Dr David Hood said New Zealand was the only country in the world with external exams for school students three years in a row. This year's exams start will start on Thursday.
Hobsonville Point principal Maurie Abraham said the pressure of constant NCEA assessments was a factor in New Zealand's poor teenage mental health and even suicide statistics. A recent survey found Kiwi 15-year-olds were more anxious about exams than students in any other developed nation.
Rototuna Senior High School principal Natasha Hemara said her school, which opened in August initially for 103 Year 11 students, wanted its teachers to focus on "quality not quantity" of learning.
"The students tell me they are learning something deeper, that they have time to understand and apply what they learn, and don't feel stressed," she said.
"They will do some Level 1 exams this year, we expect them all to do one because it's important for them to understand that experience, but we just haven't put our emphasis on that as the most important thing for them to think about.
"They are still learning all the same content. We are just choosing to assess in areas of their need and not over-assess for the sake of assessing."
At Fairfield College, principal Richard Crawford said he also hoped that less assessment would make time for "deeper learning" in Year 11 from next year.
"Kids will still get Level 1 credits, but no more than 10 credits. We are just trying to pull back on being driven by assessment," he said.
Hood, who was NZQA's first head from 1989 to 1996, said the original concept of the NZ qualifications framework was that students should leave school with a record of their learning, not a qualification based on an "arbitrary" number of 80 credits from different subjects.
"When you aggregate, you make assumptions that every one of those standards or subjects that make up NCEA is equal in value," he said.
"But you can't compare, for example, art and physics, or art and hospitality, yet we go through the charade of assigning them all equal credits."
Hood said students should leave school with digital records showing what they had achieved, including multidisciplinary projects, business ventures and community contributions.
"If I'm going for a job I have a CV," he said.
"Students could have a portfolio of learning that very clearly demonstrates the kind of things that they have done and learnt. In today's digital world, I don't see that that would be particularly difficult to do."