NCEA Level 1: will they dump it or not?

Whether Level 1 NCEA Exams such as Mathematics will be a thing of the future is unknown. Image: Kidspot

The opinion is divided.

While most principals of local schools agree that the current assessment for the first level of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) adds to high levels of anxiety and stress for students and teachers, there are some school heads keen to entirely scrap the level 1 exams.

Another group of principals prefer a status quo, while others want to increase the number of assessments.

“It’s very uncertain and a bit unsettling,” says Iva Ropati, principal of Howick College.

He has just returned from Wellington where a group of principals took strong objection to not being consulted in the NCEA Level 1 review process undertaken by the Ministry of Education.

“We suddenly don’t know what NCEA Level 1 will look like and are having conversations about the future. But it is also very exciting as there is a possibility of something good coming out of it,” he says, focusing on the positive.

However in the wake of Macleans College dumping Level 1 and more colleges following suit, Mr Ropati says he won’t be making any drastic decisions.

“We won’t be jumping into it so quickly but will be reviewing our junior college curriculum. There will be no big changes but we will be exploring the possibility of a rich, relevant, meaningful and specialised curriculum for Years 9 and 10 so that there is a smooth transition. Right now we are considering different approaches to delivering an integrated cross-curriculum.”

He says that the biggest barrier is over-assessment of young people who are under a lot of pressure. “It is undoubtedly heavy and burdensome on the teaching staff with so many assessments. The relentless assessment is linked to negative student wellbeing. Teachers and students are being overworked and driven to the ground,” he says.

Mr Ropati believes learning shouldn’t be driven by assessment alone but should be “rich and deep” so that it can help young people to apply the knowledge they have learnt for life.

“Right now we will maintain a status quo till the consultation process ends and wait for the feedback from other principals, teachers, students and the review team. We have to move away from one size fits all and that is probably the biggest challenge,” he says.

Pakuranga College principal Michael Williams says that while some schools have announced too quickly that they are not doing NCEA Level 1 at all, and some are working towards it, Pakuranga College is focussing on how to integrate the curriculum, learning habits of 21st century skills that include communication skills, how to analyse, organise, problem solving skills, goal setting and working together as a team.

“As a school we are not going to make any changes to the NCEA Level 1 as it’s officially the first step on the ladder of success—teenagers at that stage of social development need to strive to achieve. It’s a critical plank,” he says.

“While over-assessment is a problem, we have to find a way to assess smarter by looking at a bigger piece of work – looking for overlaps in the curriculum.”

Mr Williams, the president of the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand, acknowledges that the world is a lot more stressful than it used to be and that the college will make a conscious effort to teach skills like resilience.

“At one time we took it for granted that students learnt to be resilient along the way but now we will be teaching problem-solving skills and resilience. Resilience is stress with support. Taking away exams will not make life less stressful.” he says.

“Currently a big, wide-reaching review by the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, is being held. From the principals’ perspective, the earlier review was poorly managed. There are some disgruntled principals but Mr Hipkins responded well at a recent national summit attended by 150 principals who will be putting in their submissions.

“The Minister, as well as the Secretary of Education, and other officials were there, and they were all listening and collating information. The Minister has extended the consultation timeframe from September to later and a new professional advisory group with a good representation from principals is going to be set up,” he says.

Diana Patience, principal of Ormiston Senior College, says Ormiston Senior College will be doing things differently with its Year 11 students next year.

“The Board and Senior Leadership Team are pleased to announce a new approach to NCEA in the first year of senior college.

“Students will begin working towards NCEA Level 2 over two years instead of focussing on NCEA Level 1 for a year and then Level 2 the second year.”

“Schools are becoming more aware of the adverse effect of continual assessment on adolescent mental health. At present, the stress and pressure do not abate for the final three years of schooling. By taking two years to gain NCEA Level 2, assessments will not be so frequent nor the time-frames so pressured.”

However she says that assessments will not disappear. “Students in Year 11 next year will have the opportunity to achieve some credits towards Level 1 or 2.  Assessment will be linked specifically to attaining numeracy and literacy standards and working towards some Level 2 standards. This will have a knock-on effect of also making Year 12 less pressured.”

  • A public consultation includes four `Make Your Mark’ competitions challenging students to share their vision of what education might look like in the future with grants, scholarships and prizes up for grabs.
  • The idea proposed is to scrap external exams leaving only internally-assessed literacy and numeracy tests and a project chosen by each student.
  • It proposes requiring 20 out of 80 credits in each of NCEA Levels 2 and 3 to come from a pathway course such as a trade’s course, a research project or a community action project