Primary school league tables will be axed, and high-school exams are in for a big shake-up as the new Labour-led Government moves to make schools focus on learning rather than assessment.
New Education Minister Chris Hipkins, in an interview with the Herald, says Primary schools will still have to report to parents on individual children's progress against the eight levels of the curriculum, which most children cover during their 13 years at primary and secondary schools.
But National Standards, which set out levels of literacy and numeracy for Years 1 to 8, will be abolished and schools will be free to choose their own ways of assessing children's progress.
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"There are a range of tools that schools can use to do that already, but what we won't be doing is centrally collecting that data and using it to create league tables. That is a matter between teachers and parents," Hipkins said.
He has also signalled a review of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in secondary schools aimed partly at encouraging students not to enter NCEA three years in a row.
"You don't have to do all three levels but the culture is that all kids do all three, so how do we encourage people to use the flexibility that NCEA provides? That is one of the questions," he said.
He plans to announce terms of reference for the review before Christmas and hopes it will free up students to learn about each learning area, rather than only what they need to pass NCEA.
"I think there is a general concern, which I share, that the culture around NCEA has been that the only learning is the learning that contributes towards credits. That is not a culture that I want to see continued," he said.
Axing national standards may be unpopular with parents. A Herald poll when the standards were introduced in 2010 found that 73 per cent of parents with school-age children supported them.
School Trustees Association Auckland chair Ebony-Rose Andrews said she unsure how she would know how well her two primary school-age daughters were doing without the standards.
"For me, National Standards have always been a good thing because we understand where our kids are tracking," she said.
Only reporting against the eight curriculum levels was not enough, she said.
"One of my daughters is at level 7 in maths, and she's 9, so how will they extend those students who go above the curriculum at school?" she asked.
At present primary schools are required to report to the Ministry of Education by March 1 each year on the numbers of students who are at, above, below or well below National Standards in each year level, gender and ethnic group. The Ministry publishes the data for each school.
Hipkins said he could not yet say exactly when those requirements would end.
"I have to sit down with the Ministry and work out the timetable," he said.
He plans to issue guidelines on what schools must report to parents on individual children.
"What we said is that National Standards would be replaced with a requirement for schools to report, in plain language, a child's progress against the NZ curriculum," he said.
The Ministry would continue to fund Otago University's National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement, he said, which reports on a sample of schools in different subjects each year across the whole curriculum, including arts, social studies, science and health as well as literacy and numeracy.
"Sampling exercises are more than sufficient to identify where there are problems," he said.
He will also keep the "Progress and Consistency Tool" (PaCT) which has been opposed by the NZ Educational Institute (NZEI) because it was aimed at achieving nationally consistent judgments on whether children were meeting National Standards.
"I think the anxiety of the NZEI is the idea that PaCT would become a compulsory national test. We won't be doing that," Hipkins said.
"PaCT is a valuable tool. It should be added to the range of tools that are available. There are AsTTle [Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning] tests and PAT [Progressive Achievement Tests] tests, they can use a range of tools.
"We still want them to report progress to parents. What tools they use to do that is going to be over to them."
The Ministry of Education has long planned a review of NCEA that was due to start with a reference group being appointed this month and finish by the end of 2018.
A paper for the Post Primary Teachers Association's recent conference said "probably no secondary teacher would disagree that the pendulum in the senior secondary school has gone too far towards assessment, at the expense of the curriculum".
"In fact, when teachers talk about their courses, they often don't discuss the curriculum that underpins their courses but talk instead about which standards they are going to 'teach' as if a standard, of itself, constitutes the curriculum," the paper said.
"The review must, if nothing else, produce solutions to reduce the excessive assessment at the expense of learning that is endemic in our secondary schools."