NCEA not achieving literacy & numeracy

05/03/2018

The New Zealand Initiative looks at the costs of NCEA:

Ministry data shows that between 2001 and 2016 the difference between the percentage of Māori and All students achieving Level 3 (or its equivalent) has narrowed. However, in the more meaningful benchmark of University Entrance, the gap has grown even wider.

International PISA data shows that since testing began in 2002, New Zealand’s educational equity has worsened and our 15-year-olds’ reading, maths and science scores have almost constantly declined. This contrasts starkly with the same period’s NCEA data, which shows ever-improving performance and rising equity.

If NCEA data can paint a picture of constant improvement, while almost all other measures expose decline, there is reason to believe we have a problem.

Added to this, 2014 research by the Tertiary Education Commission found that within a sample of 800 Year 12 students with NCEA Level 2, 40% failed an international test of functional reading and 42% failed it in numeracy. How can students be succeeding in NCEA when they lack basic skills in reading and maths?

In pursuit of flexibility and inclusion, NCEA all but abandoned the idea of a core curriculum requirement. Instead, nowadays, students need only ten loosely defined Level 1 credits in literacy and in numeracy. Beyond this, all subjects – from meat processing to mathematics – are valued equally.

This means well-advised or motivated students can still achieve a broad and valuable education. However, for poorly-advised or less motivated students, NCEA also offers a plethora of ‘safer’ alternatives. These will maximise NCEA success by avoiding academically challenging content. With pressure on teachers and schools to drive up NCEA pass rates, some students may even be encouraged towards these safer choices.

This way, NCEA’s flexibility ensures almost all students achieve a qualification, and creates glowing headline figures for government and schools. However, the downside is that NCEA also masks huge variation in students’ achievements; it widens disadvantage while hiding it behind an alluring façade.

A system which shows improvements while literacy and numeracy rates are declining, enables pupils to take less challenging subjects that count as equal to more challenging ones, masks variations in achievements and widens disadvantages would, by NCEA’s measure get a not achieved.

It’s not just pupils who lose with NCEA:

NCEA exerts unintended negative consequences on the most important interaction in schooling: that between teacher and student.

For example, although chunking enables course flexibility, it also increases assessment volume. And because most assessment now happens internally, NCEA increases teachers’ workloads.

‘Teaching to the test’ describes the practice of coaching students in the detail of exam questions and selected content, to boost their short-term performance in assessments rather than their long-term learning. Some teaching to the test is inevitable with any high stakes assessment. However, at least three features of NCEA’s flexible design exacerbate the practice.

And NCEA doesn’t achieve for employers either:

Many employers are vexed by NCEA’s complexity and disappointed by school leavers’ skills. Although University Entrance restricts NCEA’s flexibility, too many students miss out because they fail to realise the implications of their choices. Universities also reverse-engineer NCEA data to create crude, yet life-defining rankings.

The Initiative makes seven recommendations that will:

 . . .raise expectations and equity by creating a safety-net of core subjects all students must master. They will reduce teachers’ workloads and the volume of assessment, reduce the opportunities and incentives to teach to the test, and improve teaching and learning.

Recommendation 1Raise English (and Te Reo) and maths requirements: The government should amend NCEA so that achievement at Level 1 or higher requires a minimum number of Level 1 credits in the core subjects of English (or Te Reo) and maths. This new list of eligible standards should replace the current literacy and numeracy requirements. It should also demand levels of mastery that ensure all students with NCEA also meet international benchmarks for functional literacy and numeracy.

Recommendation 2Expect a broader core of subjects: The government should signal higher expectations of the breadth of core subjects all students must master in school (two suggestions as to how this might be achieved are given in the final chapter).

Recommendation 3Reduce the number of standards: The government should reduce 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 (there is far less ‘chunking down’). The optimal size and number of standards may vary for different subjects, to be determined by subject and assessment experts. However, broadly the ambition might be set to reduce the number of standards in a subject at each level from 6–8 to 1–3.

Recommendation 4Make it harder to teach to the test: The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) should rely more heavily on the reassurance provided by elements of norm-referencing (e.g. PEPs and the cut score procedure during grade score marking) to move away from such close matching of external assessment to past assessments and specifications. Instead, they should inject elements of ‘surprise’ that encourage teachers to teach the breadth of their subject’s curriculum, rather than to its assessments. Reference tests could also be deployed to help examiners identify national level changes in students’ performance over time.

Recommendation 5: Reduce reliance on internal assessment: The government should reduce NCEA’s reliance on internal assessment, so it is used only where external assessments cannot capture performance in essential areas.

Recommendation 6: Use Comparative Judgement software: NZQA should use Comparative Judgement (CJ) software to improve the reliability and efficiency of the processes available to judge external and internal assessments. CJ would also better capture genuine quality in essay-type assessments, and equip assessors to ask more open-ended and creative questions.

Recommendation 7: Commission independent analysis: The Ministry of Education should openly evaluate NCEA’s effects by commissioning and publishing independent analysis (various suggestions are given in the final chapter).

Recommendations 1-5 trade some of NCEA’s flexibility for higher equity and standards. In the short term, they may generate a drop in NCEA achievement. However, in the longer-term, these recommendations will raise expectations, equity and outcomes across the board.

Education, especially literacy and numeracy, is one of the surest pathways out of poverty.

The current assessment system is failing pupils, over-burdening teachers and is not helpful for potential employers.

Knowing what a pupil has achieved in details might be helpful for practical subjects, for example an employer at a clothing factory might want to know a prospective employee can sew button holes.

But for general subjects the details don’t matter. Employers who looked at a CV and saw a pass mark in University Entrance geography, knew the pupil could read, write and reason. By contrast NCEA results would show a lot of detail that meant nothing and could mask that the pupil was illiterate and innumerate.

NCEA isn’t achieving. It must change and change quickly.

 


Accountability requires good information

09/08/2012

Education Minister Hekia Parata announced that achievement education for schools will be publicly available on a Ministry of Education website, Education Counts,.

It will allow parents to see how their child’s school is performing and will allow the Government to see how well the system is doing as a whole in order to raise achievement for all learners.

Public Achievement Information will include National Standards data, Education Review Office (ERO) reports, schools’ annual reports and NCEA data. Over time other relevant national and international reports will be added.

National Standards data, reported for the first time this year, will be published on the website in September in the format that schools’ submitted it.

“I accept that the data is variable. It is the first year, and no consistent format was required so that was to be expected. It can only get better and better both in quality and its use over time and we want to work with schools to do this,” says Ms Parata.

Using a variety of data is a good idea because it will give a much fuller picture of a school’s performance than just one source, especially if that was reports on National Standards which the Minister admits is inconsistent.

Business New Zealand has welcomed the announcement:

BusinessNZ Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly says more accessible information is
essential to improve school performance.

“Accountability for performance requires good information. . . “

Unions and the left are painting this as an assault on schools and teaching. It’s not, it’s merely a tool to improve transparency and accountability.


Uni’s not supposed to be easy

11/08/2011

NZUSA is criticising changes made by NZQA which will make it a little more difficult for people to gain entry to university.

The NZQA’s deputy chief executive (qualifications), Bali Haque, said the changes were not designed to restrict student entry to university, but to ensure the standard was set at an appropriate level for entry in 2015.

“The new requirement, while not a radical change, does raise the bar for university entrance.”

He believed the changes, which stemmed from a periodic review last year, would have a “motivational effect and lift achievement”.

However, a spokesman for the NZ Union of Students’ Associations, Max Hardy, said the requirements followed an “erosion of access to tertiary education” over the past few years and would shut even more people out.

“We are very concerned that students, as a result of this change, who could have done very well at university are being shut out.”

It is possible that some people who didn’t do well at school will, with a little more maturity and focus, succeed at university.

But what’s the point of lowering the entry bar only to have students who haven’t got the required academic ability waste money and time failing?

University isn’t supposed to be easy and getting there shouldn’t be either unless participation rather than success is the aim.

If success in tertiary study is the goal, as it should be, then the requirement for entry should be related to the standard required to succeed once you’re there.

Who is NZUSA working for in opposing this – it ‘s members or its own interests? While student union membership is compulsory anything which increases participation works in NZUSA’s favour but not necessarily in the interests of its members.


Too much information

18/01/2010

One of the supposed strengths of  NCEA is that it shows what pupils know and that should be helpful to employers.

In our experience it’s not.

In the old system we could look at results and see percentage marks which would tell us quite a bit about an applicant’s ability to read, write, remember and reason.

The new system has far too much information much of which means nothing to anyone outside the education system and most of which is irrelevant to employers.

Even in practical subjects it’s not as much help as it should be. It appears the ability to explain what you’re doing has too much weight and in farming many of theyoung  people we employ are better at what they do than explaining why and how they do it.

That’s not to say the ability to communicate and explain isn’t important. It is, but often young people in general and young blokes in particular, haven’t learned to do that yet.

The old system was far from perfect but I’m yet to be convinced the new one is any better.


NCEA inconsitencies

17/01/2010

Her teacher praised her art work and said she was a very talented artist with a unique style. Then she warned that NCEA assessors might not mark her work highly.

The teacher was right. The pupil who had been top of the class all year just scraped through the external assessment.

His teacher said he’d never seen a better graphics project but he failed the external assessment.

NCEA is criticised for the potential for massaging internal assessment results to make schools look good but this wasn’t the case in either of these examples.

Even allowing for a large degree of subjectivity in assessing creative endeavours this sort of discrepancy in the view of teachers and external assessors  is ridiculous.

There is something wrong with a system which has such inconsistent results between internal and external assessments.


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