Senior school students received their NCEA results this week and few will have been surprised. Their teachers will have ensured that most of them got their required credits from internal assessments before they sat the national exams.

The teachers are doing nothing wrong. They are doing exactly what the system intended them to do — helping every pupil reach a level of achievement at their own pace. If some needed to sit the same test more than once to pass, internal assessment would make that possible.

So it has proved. A generation of school leavers has enjoyed much higher pass rates than their parents, who sweated over all-important end-of-year exams that only a certain proportion of those who sat were going to be allowed to pass.

Raw marks were scaled up or down to produce the required range of results. Scaling survives, though. It was used to fix the results of last year’s geometry exam that was considered too hard.

No seasoned observer of education waits very long before the winds of change return. We reported this week that internal assessments are now considered to be dominating classroom work to an unhealthy degree. A review of NCEA is to be held this year.

One of its terms of reference is “the impact of over-assessment on student well-being and teacher workload”. Students need some relief from the pressure of constant assessment and teachers could make better use of the time they spend marking.

It is hard to see how things can be improved without returning to one or two annual assessments, perhaps one mid-year with an opportunity for those who fail to re-sit the same paper or do the same assignment at the end of the year.

Those who pass in mid-year could sit a new exam at the end and get a higher credit if they pass it. Perhaps only the new exam at the end of the year need be an external one.

NCEA’s creators will worry that this would create two classes of qualifications, reminiscent of the academic/occupational divide of old. But blurring that distinction with the NCEA has helped funnel school leavers into tertiary institutions that have left trades with an ageing, diminishing supply of skilled practitioners.

At the same time, universities have set their own credit pre-requisites for some courses, so it seems the all-purpose NCEA achievement standards are not satisfying academic or occupational needs.

Employers’ representatives want the review to put more emphasis on developing non-academic personal qualities in young people that would help them communicate and co-operate with others in working environments.

The thrust of the review will not be seen until Education Minister Chris Hipkins appoints an advisory group to publish a discussion paper in April. The panel is to produce recommendations in September which might take effect next year.

Something is seriously wrong when a student on an advisory group for the minister tells us: “NCEA for me is about getting the most credits as fast as I can without learning the content.”

Education is not learning formulaic responses to questions known in advance.

NCEA needs to change.

Source: NZ Herald

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