If the Review of NCEA is to be effective and meaningful then there must be a researched educational basis for developing and justifying changes. Coherence is essential within the NCEA system, the school’s teaching and learning objectives and each course structure.

The early report from the Education Summit (Education Central, July 4, 2018), indicates that “reducing assessment within the education system was also a common theme. Relatedly, many respondents commented on opposition to standardised testing. Some respondents felt that focusing on how much progress students are making through the curriculum is more important than judging whether they are reaching benchmarks at certain points.”

The concern that must be expressed is that much of the feedback being received on the Education Conversation website is from people who may not have any/much background in education.Their expression may be valid and at least partly reliable, but there also needs to be recognition that educational research and its synthesized interpretations must be considered to have more significant and meaningful implications. For the NCEA Review it is essential that the Principles for the review are examined and related to educational research that has established conclusive justification for recognising and promoting specific recommendations.

It is clear that the Review of NCEA has five specific Principles – wellbeing, inclusion and equity, coherence, pathways and credibility – and has specific exclusions: Standards-based assessment; Contribution of both Unit Standards and Achievement Standards; Inclusion of both the University Entrance award and NZ Scholarship Award; Individual achievement and Unit Standards and associated resources.

The following implications come from consideration of research into each of the Principles:

1. Wellbeing

This research supports the intention to diversify the perspective of Literacy to include multiple literacies, including the Health and Well-being Literacy. This contributes to the provision of greater purpose for Health and Physical Education in the NZ Curriculum and supports the objectives of Personal Health and Physical Development, Movement Concepts and Motor Skills, Relationships with other People, and Healthy Communities and Environments in the NZ Curriculum.

2. Inclusion and Equity

Therefore the Review of NCEA needs to enable teacher-educators to facilitate a New Zealand learning and assessment system that recognises the ability of all students to improve their performance through engagement and purposeful effort.  This improved effort and achievement (process and outcome) needs to be recognised through assessments that are inclusive and equitable, recognising the personal situations of all learners. This will include the diversification of Standards Based Assessment to include both Conceptual Assessment using current style Achievement Standards and Competence Based Assessment using Rich Tasks and Wicked Problems that enable assessment of Problem Solving, Research and Presentation Competencies, together with Innovation and Team Action.

3. Coherence

Research papers suggest that the Review of NCEA needs to lead teacher-educators to develop a system that recognises performance and capacities. In terms of the NZ Curriculum these must include the Key Competencies, Capabilities and progress in the Digital Curriculum assessments.

4. Pathways

Research statements provide clear direction that the Review of NCEA must provide for recognition of both Conceptual Learning and development of Key Competencies (Competence Based Achievement, CBA) as part of the NCEA Assessment system.

  1. Credibility

While external Achievement Standards provide authenticity and credibility for Conceptual Assessment, the needs for diversification, recognition of Key Competencies assessment and development of strategies to show Literacy and Numeracy achievement require a different form of assessment. There is considerable need for Competency Based Assessment to be developed urgently, with associated professional learning and development for teacher-educators.

Why do we need Competency Based Education and Assessment?

All of the implications explained above include the need to diversify, change the focus of education and assessment to include both Conceptual Learning and Competence Based Learning. If that is still insufficient, it is necessary to look beyond New Zealand and perceive the new perspectives in education that are now emerging.

The most convincing research has recently come from Susan Drake and Joanne Reid of Blake University in Toronto, Canada. Their paper, Integrated Curriculum as a Way to Teach 21st Century Capabilities (January 2018, Research Gate) must be considered as a major contribution to 21st Century educational reform.

“There is an international shift in considering what is most important for a student to Know, Do, and Be (KDB). Traditionally, curriculum expectations were largely in the cognitive realm – the Know of the curriculum. In the 21st Century, the Know focuses more on conceptual thinking rather than memorizing facts. Examples of fundamental concepts include sustainability, change, cause and consequences, interdependence, and systems. These concepts are interdisciplinary.

The Do has shifted from lower-order skills such as recall and description to complex interdisciplinary capabilities such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, information management, and creativity. Literacy and numeracy remain the basic foundation, but research and inquiry are also prioritized.

Finally, Be is also important as jurisdictions develop new educational policies that focus on mental health, personal growth, socio-emotional learning, and values and attitudes. Character education is a hallmark of the Be. Character education cuts across the curriculum in all subjects and grade levels, and has three main goals: lifelong learning, creating and maintaining healthy relationships, and developing the values to

successfully participate in society (Bialik, Bogan, Fadel, & Horvathova, 2015). The Be is also embedded in citizenship as is found in several jurisdictions’ curriculum policies. The Know, Do, and Be are nterconnected and interdependent. Twenty-first century capabilities are not taught in isolation but rather are taught within a core body of knowledge (Silva, 2009).

Consider the capability of Citizenship. As students learn the concept of good citizenship (Know), then act in ways that demonstrate citizenship (Do), they become good citizens (Be).

Currently, capabilities are acknowledged as necessary for successful 21st Century living and should be a central focus of curriculum. Teachers think the competencies are important, and think that they already develop them in their classroom (van de Oudeweetering & Voogt, 2017). At the same time, many teachers feel overwhelmed by the scale and pace of educational reforms (Loewus, 2017). So how can we encourage educators to give competencies the attention they deserve?

We offer recommendations that we believe will help move forward the implementation of teaching the capabilities for 21st Century learning and teaching. First, we agree with Voogt and Roblin (2012) who recommend beginning with operational definitions of the competencies. Clarification would include describing what competencies look like at progressive levels of development for students at different age levels. These definitions will help determine a pedagogical continuum for teaching and assessing competencies across age levels and subjects (Voogt, Shin, Mishra, Koehler, Schmidt, Baran, Thompson, Wang, Alayyar, Fisser, Agyei, Ormel, Velthuis, Tondeur, & Gibson, 2011). Voogt and Roblin also correctly call for the identification of connections between core subjects and 21st Century capabilities.

Australia has begun this process by developing definitions and performance criteria for general capabilities. The performance criteria could serve as an evaluation rubric.For example, a rubric for critical and creative thinking could include the following categories based on the definition:

  1. Inquiry- identifying, exploring and organizing information
  2. Generating ideas – possibilities and actions
  3. Analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating reasoning and procedures
  4. Reflecting on thinking and processes 

Second, we recommend that curriculum planners begin with a unifying framework that provides the big picture and presents the capabilities as a backdrop for lesson or unit plans. This process recognizes the KDB and insures that the competencies are at the forefront.

Third, we urge educators to consider using an integrated approach to curriculum, if not all the time, at appropriate times. Again, we agree with Voogt and Roblin (2012) that working with dynamic and relevant interdisciplinary themes is important and reinforces our premise that teaching integrated skills with an integrated curriculum is effective pedagogy.

Finally, as a forward-looking action, we recommend that there be more direct teaching about competencies in teacher preparation programs and more ongoing professional development for practicing educators. We suggest that materials be developed that illustrate what the capabilities look like in action. In Ontario, for example, video clips have been created by MISA London that offer the criteria for a learning skill and then show situations in which the skill is being developed; these 47 videos act as exemplars. This type of tool can be expanded to demonstrate what capabilities look like in practice and provide levels of performance.

The emerging importance of the capabilities and their actual implementation depend upon many factors. Certainly, challenges lie ahead, but we believe that adopting curriculum integration to some extent can ease the implementation process.

Easy or not, the need to address 21st Century competencies in our classrooms is pressing.”

The OECD project Innovative Learning Environments has published The Nature of Learning to support schools as they reconsider their approach to learning and teaching. This publication uses research to inspire practice. It provides a powerful knowledge base for the design of learning environments for the 21st century.

The seven Principles are identified as:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are integral to learning
  4. Recognising individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections.

and the eight skills students need for the 21st Century are Leadership, Digital Literacy, Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Entrepreneurship, Global Citizenship, Problem Solving and Team Working.

The Review of NCEA is a huge opportunity to consider what is needed for 21st Century education and assessment. It is an opportunity that we must use to consider the global movements towards extremely different education and assessment necessities based on the foundation of research.

While it is important that New Zealand looks inwards to acknowledge and consider the views of our own educators in schools, we must also look outwards to the world to see what is happening. There are major changes needed that include both Conceptual Learning and Assessment and Competence Based Assessment perspectives. The world’s educational perspectives are changing from the focus on knowledge through just-in-case learning to just-in-time learning, greater emphasis on multiple literacies, innovative uses of technology and assessment and the latter is supported by competence based developments.


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