After contacting the Hon. Nikki Kaye and expressing my ideas about the NCEA Review, I found myself consulting at the Ministry of Education in Wellington in early April, explaining my synthesis of research ideas.

That was when I requested attendance at the May 12-13 Education Forum in Auckland, only to be told that all invitations had been issued. While many teacher-educators did receive invitations and were really worthy of attendance, it certainly seems that many teacher-educators (including principals and experienced teachers) may have missed the opportunity to participate in the NCEA Review.

I wonder how many teachers have experienced professional learning and development days focused on providing responses to the NCEA Review on the website. They are so busy preparing, teaching and assessing to ensure that as many students as possible get their credits that they rarely get time to pause and consider in depth the future of learning, teaching and assessment in New Zealand.

The comment in the book NCEA in Context  that “it is an unfortunate truth that assessment always dominates curriculum” by NZCER Rose Hipkins is a real, but unfortunate, truth. However, the NCEA Review is a real opportunity to hear the thinking of New Zealand teacher-educators and parents.

Many of our current teachers have no perspectives of other assessment systems as NCEA is the only one they have experienced. Few teachers will have the perspective of the ‘Head-Hearts-Hands’ leadership emphasis of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. They did not experience the learning and assessment systems of University Bursary and Sixth Form Certificate that contributed to a much broader understanding of assessment in New Zealand.

The extent of protest and request for engagement shows the considerable number of teacher-educators who feel left right out. It is essential that teacher-educators, including principals, faculty managers and teachers, are provided with the opportunity to engage in deep learning and discussion and respond to the NCEA Review survey.

However, there is concern that many of those expressing the need to participate in the NCEA Review may require greater understanding of the progressions in both The New Zealand Curriculum and the intentions of the NCEA Review.

Experiences with teachers in schools indicate that many do not understand the depth and implications of the key competencies, values learning, future-focus learning and 21st-century needs as published by the OECD. How many teacher-educators can discuss the principles of Universal Design for Learning effectively? Or how coherence is needed between learning and assessment?

Before engaging in the NCEA Review, teacher-educators need time to look at and the six conversations. And so that they have a very good understanding of the future needs of students and how NCEA assessment needs to be aligned to these future needs, they might need to read research books such as:

  • Disciplining and drafting or 21st century education? NZCER 2014
  • “NCEA in context NZCER 2016
  • Education Futures 21C – What? Why? How? Education Futures 21C

and research articles such as:

  • Integrated curriculum as an effective way to teach 21st century capabilities Susan Drake (Brock University)
  • The relation between 21st century skills and digital skills Ester Van Laar (University of Twente)
  • NCEA – considering the BIG opportunities Claire Amos
  • Aligning learning and assessment to the NZ Curriculum utilizing capabilities and competencies Graham Foster

Rose Hipkins remarks in NCEA in context that it was never intended to use NCEA as the basis for designing learning programmes, but rather it was intended that the Achievement Standards (AS) would be integrated into the existing teaching and assessment programme.

Unfortunately the focus on NCEA AS has excluded much of the good teaching and learning practices teachers used to apply. For example, we have now lost the engagement of students in the range of practical experiments and physical experiences they had in the sciences.

We do need to remember the wide range of student aptitudes and learning capabilities we have in schools so there really does seem to be the need to retain Level 1 in some form. Perhaps the move away from subject-based AS towards an integrated teaching and learning focus might support those students needing Level 1 as they develop skills and capabilities that are relevant to the 21st century. Project-based education is a great opportunity to provide a range of educational options that include literacy and numeracy.

More specific literacy objectives might be required. Some students are particularly weak in their reading and comprehension skills, so greater focus on these to enable inference, interpretation and synthesis etc. might be worth considering.

Also, there should be specific learning objectives for developing values and understanding reliability and validity, together with the development of innovation, creativity and self-management. These are all in The New Zealand Curriculum but do not get the attention they deserve in teaching for NCEA AS assessments.

As part of the considerations for the NCEA Review, we need to consider the definition of literacy. The 21st-century understanding is that there are now multiple forms of literacy, including media, environmental, financial, digital and wellbeing, so we need to clarify this perspective before we commit to that direction.

A logical sequence of consultation should be developed to provide opportunities to include teachers and principals. As an initial guide to a timeline, the following might be considered:

  • Focus group review team (February to September).
  • Teacher Professional Development Days – Part 1 (1- 30 October). Reading and development materials provided to schools. Teachers provided with summaries of the issues for consideration.
  • Teacher Professional Development Days – Part 2 (15-25 November). Focused discussions.
  • Teacher and Principal Consultation Days (2) (28 November – 5 December). At this time, teachers are given the opportunity to make online submissions either individually or as a group.
  • Collation and development of review concepts.

The NCEA Review is highlighting many questions and opportunities, plus a need for adequate and up-to-date background information so that teachers can contribute constructively and wisely. Level 1 seems to be a good place to start with adjustments, so perhaps there should be a lengthened, planned and staged progression to the review.

Graham Foster is a facilitator and consultant at Education Futures 21C.  After teaching in senior and middle management positions in several secondary schools, Graham has written three ebooks about the NZ Curriculum, engagement, assessment of students and future needs of students to be prepared and resilient in the 21st Century.  He has been consulting in schools and at the Ministry of Education, Wellington.


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