Friday, April 3, 2015

How Might We Align NCEA With Our Vision

This question has not necessarily vexed us for a couple of years during our establishment phase and during out initial implementation phases but it has certainly been lying in wait for us. We've often been told that what you are doing with curriculum and pedagogy at your school is well and good for 'juniors' but wait until the restrictions and demands of NCEA start impacting on you.

To tell the truth, I haven't been too worried and I've made no secret of my simple strategy/solution which was to not offer NCEA Level 1 at all and just move into L2 in Year 12. I know announcing this position caused some disquiet amongst my colleagues but I think this made me more determined to keep announcing it to stretch what the possibilities might be. NCEA is an awesome qualification with huge flexibility and potential. I believe it is ripe for an innovative approach.

A few planets began to line up that helped to solidify my own thinking. The first was the release of the ERO National Report on Student Well-Being in Secondary Schools. See my post on its damning findings. This report solidified my own resolve to not lead a school that contributed to this situation. I then moved on to finding the courage to stick with this moral purpose. Of course, as a leader you need to take people with you and the courage to pursue a moral purpose is of no use if this doesn't happen.

Around about the same time while in deep, vigorous discussion within our SLT forum as were were debating what NCEA position we would be finalising and presenting to our staff, students and parents I felt my resolve strengthening and proclaimed that I didn't want to lead a school which rolled out NCEA like every other school was doing simply because not all of our staff would agree with anything other than that and that it would be a hard sell to our parents. We'd signed up for the hard and challenging work to bring life to our vision (I told myself).

Then I had to prepare a spotlight address at the National Aspiring Principal Programme on Leading for the future with a moral purpose (see previous post). The preparation for and delivery of this address not only focused myself on the responsibility I had to be courageous but it also influenced other key people who are necessary for us to be successful.
In introducing the topic to staff I reminded them that we were on a journey to redesign the secondary school experience in NZ. I reminded them that we had dismantled the NZC to discover its essence and then created our own curriculum and pedagogical models to realise its full potential. This is still on-going work. But I reminded them that our work was not done and that the qualification process was our next target.

As usual we started with what we wanted to end up with.


I then outlined to staff what the'principles' were that had been behind us coming to our position.


Staff were then shown a learning years framework which I had shared last year which showed how NCEA and our view on it could easily align with it.

And as we are finding ourselves doing more recently I presented an Elevator Statement that summarises our position.

 So how are we going to incorporate NCEA in a way that that aligned with the above principles and matched our learning years framework?

Let me show you a whiteboard I prepared earlier (and which featured prominently at our parents meeting)!
The intention of this masterpiece was to clarify the mix of numbers that can confuse: Year Levels, Curriculum Levels and NCEA Levels. I pointed out there was a strong link between the curriculum levels and NCEA levels but just a loose link with Year Levels.

I then explained why NCEA Level 1 was a qualification of little value; it leads to no employment or further training. Despite this all schools expose their 14 and 15 year olds to a full year of six subjects offering anywhere between 18 and 24 credits (both internal and external) meaning to get the 80 required (for a meaningless qualification) students were being exposed to 120-140 credits. It's like being hit by a tidal wave! All of a sudden their focus moves away from the joy of discovery and learning to credit chasing and teachers take their eye off the NZC and 'teach to the tests' - all for a qualification that has little value! Stress levels rise for everyone - students, teachers and parents.

Our plan is that our Year 11 students will achieve around 20 quality Level 1 or 2 credits that emerge from their co-constructed learning programmes. Most of these will be from their areas of interest and passion though if we identify that a learner will struggle to receive literacy and numeracy credits at Level 6 or 7 then we will direct them to the literacy and numeracy Unit Standards.

Our learners will take their 20 quality credits with them to Year 12. Their focus in Year 12 will be on 60 quality Level 2 or higher credits. When these are matched with the 20 they have brought with them they are awarded NCEA L1 and 2. They will have done this after having attempted around 100 credits over their 2 years rather than the 220-280 they may have had to attempt elsewhere.

Of course, it was important to explain to parents that while the learners weren't being exposed to a huge number of NCEA assessments they were still covering all of the Achievement Objectives from the NZC (in relevant Learning Areas) and would be assessed by the school and reported on them.

Claire then took over and described how we were meeting the needs of the small group of Year 11 students we had this year. In Week 1 of this year, after hearing student voice, teachers prepared module programmes for our learners with Learning Objectives from NZC.  few weekslater Claire asked teachers to investigate whether if they had any students achieving at CL6 could they see any internally assessed NCEA L1 Achievement Standards they could offer. This resulted in a long menu from all modules of possible Achievement Standards. Our Year 11 students were invited to negotiate with their teachers which ones they could attempt in their journey of collecting 20 credits.

This process is so powerful at many levels. Firstly, the NCEA Achievement Standards fell out of the programmes RATHER THAN BEING THE PRIME DRIVERS OF THE PROGRAMMES! Secondly, the students were empowered to lead the process and to negotiate their individual pathway. Thirdly, our staff can feel proud about walking the talk of personalising learning and assessment.

Our night was a huge success. We got a great endorsement from the NZQA representative present who championed our emphasis on quality rather than quantity and congratulated our moves to reduce assessment anxiety and reject the assessment driven curriculum. Throughout the evening our parents asked challenging questions in their attempt to understand. I congratulated them for helping create a school where they felt really comfortable challenging the Principal and SLT.

It was agreat way to start the final week of Term 1. And what a great way to end........

International Onesie Day!

Mad Hatters Tea Party!

See you next term at our weird and wonderful school!

1 comment:

Tony Cairns said...

thanks for this - very useful - i will feed it into my school tomorrow - thanks for doing the thinking, leading and testing for the nation, kia kaha and best wishes tony et al.