Monday, April 24, 2023

Alwyn Poole: NCEA 2023 Version (aka What Chance for Kids?)

I am often asked to make clear the NCEA system. I have done my best below but please keep in mind I only have an undergrad (economics), a Masters (education), a teaching diploma and a post grad in sports management. Oh… and 32years in the “system”.

Back in the day the National Certificate of Education Achievement (NCEA) replaced School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate and University Bursary. University Entrance remained but the form it takes has altered.

Promises made were that “standardised assessment” would allow higher achievement (as opposed to set limits on how many could pass). At first you could only pass/fail but later merits and excellences were added for some standards. Life-long learning was to be encouraged, as you could/can add to your “record of learning” anytime (actually a good thing, but severely under-utilised).

Throughout the levels you study within achievement standards or unit standards. Achievement standards have always been seen as more academic (and change was made so you could achieve or with merit or excellence). Some achievement standards have been mainly internally assessed – others mainly examined. Unit standards have been a lower hurdle, trade directed and always internally assessed. As well as plain old L1, L2, or L3 NCEA – there has been a proliferation in all sorts of “certificates” (eg in computing, hairdressing). A student could decorate walls with these, as pony club kids do.

When you pass an achievement or unit standard at a particular level you get “credits”. A credit from either type is the same value (whether physics or changing a bike tyre or organising a desk workspace).

A subject – eg mathematics – could be made up of five/six achievement standards (effectively units of work that cover approx six weeks) that describe what will be taught/learned and the mode of assessment. Roughly, this could be achievement standards for number, geometry, statistics, algebra, measurement, research… Quite quickly it reached the stage that there were a limited number of achievement standards but MANY unit standards (a dog’s breakfast). It also has fractured having complete courses.

To Achieve L1 NCEA

Students need to accumulate 60 credits from any level (1, 2 or 3) courses and/plus students must have “literacy and numeracy” by having 10 credits in math-related standards (loosely) and 10 in English-related standards (also loosely), ie a total of 80 credits. A well-organised and motivated student (they do exist) will have 120 credits, have sat exams and got a merit or excellence endorsement.

To Achieve L2 NCEA

Students need to accumulate 60 credits from L2 or L3 courses (plus 20 from any level) and have met the L1 numeracy and literacy requirements.

To Achieve L3 NCEA

Students need to accumulate 60 credits from L3 courses (plus 20 from any level) and have met the L1 numeracy and literacy requirements.

To Achieve University Entrance

Students need NCEA level 3 including 14 credits in each of three “approved subjects” at level 3. There are approximately 60 of these and yet many schools fail to have their Y13 students doing even three of them – therefore they cannot get UE. They also need UE literacy – 10 credits at level 2 or above, made up of: – 5 credits in reading – 5 credits in writing. They also need UE numeracy – 10 credits at level 1 or above (the same as the requirement for NCEA numeracy – a very low bar). Universities will also have points requirements to get into certain courses.

If you want to really blow your mind – go here for the “approved subjects” list.

There has been tinkering over time to make things more or less academic, etc: not worth detailing. It is like a mansion built by drunk idiots, in the dark, with no overall plan, over 30-plus years.

As it became clearer and clearer that you could get right through all of these qualifications and lack any real ability to be numerate or literate, the 2018 Labour government, under pressure (boom, boom, ba bep), chose to introduce “co-credits” in numeracy and literacy that are, theoretically, at L1 but can be sat in any year (even Y7). They are worth 10 credits each and have been designed to ensure a basic level of both aspects. If you cannot pass them, you cannot get any qualification. (They have created them as online assessments, which is stupid but I won’t detail the reasons here).

They were supposed to be compulsory in 2023. Three things have screwed that up.
  1. Labour’s union-affiliated hatred of assessment meant that no one had any idea just how badly students were being taught and doing in these basics. This has been deliberately hidden for years and years.
  2. Hipkins failed to put in place any effective teaching and learning programme to rectify a situation that he had chosen not to discover.
  3. Trial testing over the last three years has had appalling results and even the most recent ones showed that if the co-credits were made compulsory in 2024 (a year later that original intended) up to 50 per cent of students could/would leave school with no qualifications (and 90 per cent of decile one students).
Therefore Hipkins/Tinetti has now chosen to make them compulsory in… 2026 and stipulate a grab-bag of alternatives that schools can use in the meantime (although the well-prepared ones will use the co-credits next year).

The overall “cluster balls-up” (I needed to coin a new phrase to stop myself crying for the kids) of our system, and the degree needed to understand it, is one of the reasons the NCEA has both lost credibility and has little impact as a motivator for many students. Many of those who are moderately organized – accumulate credits throughout the year in all manner of ways – get to the number needed and switch off (not bothering with exams) and often will even leave school at the end of term three and go and work.

On top of the mess it was in 2018 – only Hipkins/Labour could have made it worse – and in spectacular style. Add to this the “curriculum refresh” (which is appalling) and…

How many teachers, bureaucrats, parents and politicians could pass a test on this from their everyday knowledge?

Alwyn Poole, a well-known figure in the New Zealand education system, he founded and was the head of Mt Hobson Middle School in Auckland for 18 years. This article was published HERE


Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

The NCEA represents the realisation of a great ideal - that of a flexible, horses-for-courses system that allows youngsters to be oriented towards post-school education and training programmes from carpentry to electronic engineering. In abandoning the one-size-fits-all mindset it made bold steps towards turning the education sector into a productive one from which all benefit.
Unfortunately, people who don't understand assessment very well had a bit much to say in how the system worked, and so we got anomalies like criterion-referenced Unit Standards being used for academic subjects that require more of a normative assessment approach. Some of these issues were sorted out, some were not.
Whatever you do, don't ditch the NCEA - that would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Identify the problems issues and get people who are highly qualified in assessment (the most 'scientific' branch of study in the broad discipline of Education) to fix them.
When you've got a good car that isn't running properly, you get an expert mechanic to fix it, you don't tow it to the wrecker's yard because some bungling amateur tells you it's kaput.

Robert Arthur said...

Thanks Alwyn. Little wonder there is such a large MoE staff. Seems a classic case of empire building. I attended a presentation by a headmaster 20 years ago. I came away confused and very humbled and somewhat troubled that I could not fathom. (It has taken two readings to reasonably grasp even your unobscured explanation). I presumed by cognitive functions had faded since tertiary qualifications decades earlier. Many of the parents present included labouring classes. They did not ask any questions. I had many things occupying my mind at the time (esp work related) and so took no part in my son's course selection. Fortunately he was motivated and able and somehow sorted a path.
With all the assessing involved little wonder teachers feel burdened. Would the system have been operable prior spreadsheets? Is understanding NCEA a compulsory unit? If so how many pass in the lower decile schools? How many emplyers would pass a test?
If a fraction of the effort had been expended teaching School Cert, and the scaling issue sorted, we would all be miles ahead, except many score MoE staff.
NCEA was "sold" as making it possible for all to acheive some qualification, therfore boosting enthusiam for school. general confidence etc. In both it has failed misearbly, and reduced the application of many able..

Anonymous said...

Barend may be right, but the system clearly isn't producing the desired results and requires immediate attention. It should not have taken this long to realise there's major issues and those accountable should apologise and be gone. Certainly, Hipkins has a great deal to answer for, as too those in oversight at the MoE. It's more than a disgrace.

Doug Longmire said...

What a tangled weave of incomprehensible jargon/new age label proliferation.

What was actually wrong with the previous system, School Cert, Higher School Cert, etc ?

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

To answer Doug's question, quite a lot.
The old system was based on the premises that every youngster could and should pass exams in general education subjects, and that most would then leave the system and get a job or apprenticeship, while about 10% would complete the upper secondary years and undertake tertiary study.
The situation today is that we need a system that applies multiple yardsticks at the lower end in order to sort and channel youngsters into suitable pathways meshing with post-school education and training programmes. We need a system geared to getting young people into programmes that lead them towards a life of productive work matching their abilities and aptitudes.
I could turn this into a 10-page response but will leave it at that for now :)

Erica said...

I have two comments .
Baristas, hairdressers and the like still need good literacy and numeracy skills which this system, in fact the whole education system is failing to produce. From my perspective as a tutor, I observed horrible dishonesty in internal assessments. Schools wished to look good in their achievement so students were generously helped in passing class tests. Examples were students being handed an almost identical exam to study before the real exam ,or given more than one chance to resit the exact same exam.
Since it is next to impossible for colleges to pull students up
who arrive there completely lacking in the basics, I would suggest an exam for 12- 13 year olds in literacy ,numeracy and written work. Primary education needs to have heaps more accountability.
Teacher unions need to stick to pay and working conditions and get out of the

Doug Longmire said...

To Barren,
I hear what you are saying, but the current system is just not working. New Zealand has dropped way down in the OECD educational standards under the current system.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

Dough, you're right, we have dropped. But I maintain that it is the way we use the system, rather than the system itself, which is responsible for this, so we should fix the way we use it and not just chuck out the whole thing.
I should add that I am a wee bit sceptical about these international tests as they do rely to a degree on curricular validity, I remember when PNG came out smelling out of roses in TIMSS one year and it turned out to be because the main topics in the test had just been taught so the details were still in candidates' minds.

Robert Arthur said...

The Teaching Council would seem to be at fault at least as much as the unions. They obcess over pro maoriness and matters gender, to the excluison of emphasis on most else. The govt tried to rein them in by limiting funds, to little avail.

Gaynor said...

'New Zealand's Education Delusion',by Briar Lipson, free PDF, is a good reference for describing NZ's consistently poor education standards in PISA,PIRLS,TIMSS, as well as the OECD countries ,in which NZ scored 24th in reading. out of 26 participating countries. Our brightest are also under performing.
In graphs, the poor performances of our students in the above tests is contrasted with the lovely looking big improvement in NCEA passes.
Personally I was shocked that my grandson who is bright but not brilliant could pass most of the NCEA preliminary maths tests but is only in year 6.

David Lillis said...

As a former statistician for the NCEA and Scholarship, here are some thoughts:

1. The intent was good - more effective learning through meeting criteria and maybe it is more effective

2. Unfortunately, overassessment, and NCEA is a blunt instrument when kids produce essentially good work but get a low or not achieved grade for failing to meet some criterion or other

3. A highly complex system with many surprises about this or that standard for those working within it - like myself.

4. Statistical challenges involved in maintaining "standards" and demonstrating to advisory committees that the "standard" of a particular standard was being maintained

5. Greater correlation between NCEA Level 3 scores and Stage 1 university grades than either Baccalaureate or Cambridge - possibly because of internal assessment

6. Only moderately strong correlation between Leve1 grades and Level 2 grades, Level 2 and Level 3 etc. Correlations for the relevant cohorts of only about 0.6.

7. Unfortunately - too many overpaid career bureaucrats in the system with no education or research experience - and some with no tertiary qualifications whatsoever bullying experts and giving poor advice

David Lillis

TJS said...

Thank you David, thank you Barend and thank you Alwyn. One is never too old to learn.
There is an exception to this but it's not funny.