While agreeing with the issue of disparity in the story: NCEA The Only Brown Kid In The Room I'm not comfortable with the status given to external exams as a 'higher' form of assessment. While the selection of programmes and standards for every student must be closely monitored I think it is a credit that schools and students can make strategic decisions. There seems to be a view that not doing external standards might be some sort of dumbing down. I prefer to see the opportunities for personalisation and responsiveness.
It was great to see in the article: The English Exam No-one Wants to Take strategic decision-making which seems to be OK because even "high achieving kids" choose not to sit this external.
If the answer to the question Are Exams Only For The Elite is yes I say good luck to the elite! Maybe the reason might have more to do with my belief that it is in the low decile schools where you see more innovation, responsiveness and personalisation. The simple path is to take all students down the same pathway with the range and balance of internals and externals as we have always done them. We have to break down this acceptance of some special status for externals. Go Kia Aroha College.
I loved reading about Heretaunga College with Bruce Hart's focus on quality over quantity and the interesting and engaging courses his staff have innovatively created and the courage it has taken to reduce the number of assessments.
Where do you reckon kids are more engaged in quality deep learning and achieving to their potential? In schools of innovative and responsive thinking like Heretaunga College and Kia Aroha College or in those schools where they start the year looking at the tsunami of assessments coming at then throughout the full year culminating in the 'elite, high status' externals at the end of the year?
We just need to remember the headlines from only a week ago when 15 year olds were "reduced to tears" with the stress of facing an exam which didn't look like the one they thought was coming at them. I was staggered to hear that schools found this a problem because this one external (worth 4 credits) was used as the sole prerequisite to allow a student to do Level 2 Calculus! What are we doing to our kids to subject them to this level of stress? How do such practices lead to deep learning and engagement, surely the goal of every school.
I recall reading in an ERO National Report on Priority Learners in 2012 where ERO's position was that "innovation and responsiveness should be the NORM (my emphasis) in all schools." And then in 2015 they issued a report on student well-being in secondary schools and I struggled to sleep after reading some of their findings. They included:
- "The key factor was that students in ALL (my emphasis) schools were experiencing a very assessment driven curriculum and assessment anxiety (me again)."
- Have a brief think of what might be meant by assessment anxiety and how it might act upon teenagers!
- "In many schools the only people who understood the overall curriculum and competing demands on them were the students" !!! (me again).
I would like to propose a way forward:
- NCEA Level 1 becomes a qualification for priority learners only and it will be achieved over 2 - 3 years. It begins in Year 11 and not before.
- NCEA L2 is achieved as a result of a 2 year journey with same credit requirements as now (60 at L2 and 20 at any other level.) It begins in Year 11 and not before and students are not permitted to be entered in more than 40 in Year 11.
- Remove subject endorsement ("subjects" need to be replaced by courses that include learning and standards from a range of "subjects". Subject endorsement serves no useful purpose and unlike Course Endorsement for some reason has to be achieved in a calendar year - this reinforces subject siloisation and arbitrary time frames on a learning programme.) After all the NZC says, "All learning should make use of the natural connections that exist between learning areas and that link learning areas to the values and key competencies." (p 16). It also says, "When designing and reviewing their curriculum, schools select achievement objectives from each area in response to the identified interests and learning needs of their students." (p 44).
- Remove external assessment credits as a requirement for certificate endorsement. Do we really want to consign those students at Kia Aroha College to a 'lesser' qualification because of this antiquated requirement?
- Abolish the current scholarship arrangement and award the equivalent number of acknowledgements and funds to those who indicate a superior level of excellence at Level 3.
- NZQA works with universities to develop a less restrictive portfolio of evidence for entering restricted entry programmes. The current requirements are one of the biggest drags on innovation and responsiveness in the senior secondary school. (As an aside I would argue that the lack of agility on the behalf of universities is one of the biggest threats to their relevance.)
We're putting some of these suggestions in place at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. This link takes you to a page on our website which documents our approach which is centred around a 2 year journey to a quality NCEA L2 with a limit on credits available in Year 11.
I'm going to encourage my DP, Claire Amos, to publish her thoughts on how the internal assessment process can be operated innovatively to free teachers up further so watch out for her post.
I'm keen to hear feedback on my views and proposals so please get in touch.