By: Simon Collins

A business thinktank wants to abolish internal assessment and bring back external exams for almost all subjects in our senior school assessment system, which it says no longer guarantees basic literacy or numeracy.

The group, the New Zealand Initiative, says educators have perpetrated a “deception” by creating an assessment system that “pretends that all subjects – from meat processing to mathematics – are equal”.

It proposes radical changes in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), including creating a “core curriculum” that all students would cover, drastically reducing the 9360 units that students can choose from, and abolishing internal assessment for all subjects that can use external exams.

The report comes as the Government is about to release a discussion document next month on its own review of NCEA.

Report author Briar Lipson said NCEA was set up in 2002 with the “laudable aim” of reducing socio-economic and ethnic gaps in educational achievement – “but actually what we have seen is falling standards and increasing inequity”.

Research for the Tertiary Education Commission in 2014 found that about 40 per cent of Year 12 students with NCEA Level 2 failed to reach international benchmarks for literacy and numeracy “that people need to operate in an information-rich society”.

And although Māori and Pasifika achievement levels have risen faster than Pākehā students in NCEA, they have fallen further behind Pākehā students in University Entrance, which counts only academic subjects.

“This reality is a direct consequence of NCEA’s flexibility and underpinning principle of parity of esteem,” the report says.

“Because of these, under NCEA 3 credits at Level 2 can be accumulated for passing standards titled anything from ‘Demonstrate understanding of atomic and nuclear physics’ to ‘Experience day tramps.'”

Even within academic subjects, the report says NCEA has put pressure on teachers to “teach to the test” – coaching students to rote-learn model answers without either understanding the subject or acquiring the skills that the test was supposed to assess.

It says this is due to three “design flaws”: the way NCEA breaks up subjects into small chunks or “standards” requiring almost constant testing; the idea that you only have to pass a “standard” rather than grading students on how well they understand the subject; and the use of internal assessment.

Although there are still external exams for academic subjects, 72 per cent even of academic standards are now internally assessed, up from 66 per cent in 2012. All non-academic subjects are internally assessed by either teachers or workplace assessors.

The report recommends abolishing internal assessment except “where external assessments cannot capture performance”, such as in practical subjects.

It proposes drastically reducing the number of standards – “so that within a particular subject there is minimal to no choice and each standard covers a bigger and broader set of skills and knowledge”.

It also says all students should have to follow a “core curriculum” of English or te reo Māori, maths, science and social science at least through Year 11.

Post Primary Teachers Association president Jack Boyle said teachers shared many of the report’s concerns about NCEA and would support reducing the number of standards, giving students less choice within a subject, and less internal assessment, to reduce the teachers’ workload.

But he said internal assessment would still be needed for cross-curricular project-based learning.

Nikki Kaye, pictured (right) with former leader Bill English, says she has an “open mind” on bringing back external exams for NCEA. File photo

National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye said she supported reducing teachers’ workload and was “open-minded” about reducing internal assessment.

Source: NZ Herald

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