The recently announced reforms of NCEA provide a practical pathway to creating a New Zealand qualification that will be simpler to administer, reduce workload for students and teachers, create greater consistency and be more academically robust.
It is a victory for education and common sense.
The more stringent requirements for literacy and numeracy is a reflection that in New Zealand achievement rates have been declining for some time including by all international benchmarks, requiring intermediate and secondary schools to get literacy and numeracy levels right by the time the time students enter NCEA is a necessary step.
Internal assessment has merit and its place in NCEA but let's be clear, it does create internal conflict when teachers and principals are also advocates for their students, responsible for their grades and judged themselves by the results.
Everyone prefers internal assessment but no one completely trusts it!
The requirement for 50 per cent external assessment will inject more objectivity, transparency, and credibility into the qualification.
The proliferation of NCEA standards has created a disjointed, unwieldly qualification with significant variability in quality. It has left many students with a qualification that has little real value to them, employers and importantly no clear pathway to further study.
A major focus on fewer but larger standards will create a more coherent and credible learning context for students at school and beyond.
The provision of English as a second language in New Zealand schools is woefully inadequate including a paucity of advisors and professional development opportunities for teachers.
It has adversely affected our migrant and refugee students as well as our international students. This is an addition to our own domestic students who also struggle with literacy. A major injection of resources will be necessary if we have any chance of improving our literacy standards which is core to all learning and indeed life opportunities.
While we might applaud the move to more external assessment, including exams, in the interim our NCEA results may take a hit as students and teachers adjust to the new environment.
There is sufficient lead in time to these changes which should allow principals and teachers to thoroughly prepare, but parents also need to brace themselves without pushing the "panic" button.
It is acknowledged that while the overall workload of teachers and students will decrease with more external assessment, it has the potential to create higher levels of stress and anxiety for students and staff. This change, however, is necessary preparation for the
world of work and tertiary environments they will be going into. The key focus for schools will be to prepare early for these reforms.
Despite the shortcomings of the current NCEA system it has without question resulted in substantial gains for Māori and Pacifika students as well as those with additional learning needs. It is vital that under this new regime that we continue the progress for these students,not just for their sake but New Zealand as a whole.
The reforms strike a good balance and will restore confidence in NCEA which had become a "beast of burden" and sucked much of the joy out of teaching and learning. A great deal of preparation and resource will however be needed to ensure the success of these changes for all students in Aotearoa.
- Patrick Walsh is principal at John Paul College and former president of the Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand.