Thursday, April 16, 2020

How to Manage NCEA in Covid-affected 2020

A Rider
I want to start by saying that I have no ulterior motive for putting forward the following suggested strategy. My focus is entirely on the well-being of students and staff and strongly believe the positive outcomes would easily outweigh any perceived negative outcomes. As well, I can't help but draw on our experience at Hobsonville Point Secondary School over the last 7 years where I have witnessed a deep engagement with learning and high quality qualification achievement by our learners, But, also, I cannot help but draw on my previous 20 years experience as a school leader in a decile 1 school (where, by the way, I would be implementing a strategy similar to that described here).

Covid-affected 2020
At some point we will return to our physical schools. At this stage we are not sure whether our students would have missed out on 3, 4 or more weeks of on-site, physical school. It is very important to remember that whatever that time of off-site is, the actual lost time to that important on-site face-to-face learning will be much longer.

Here's why:
Our students (and staff) will return to our sites affected by a number of issues:

  • some will be grieving
  • many whānau will be affected by health issues
  • many students' whānau will be facing employment uncertainty
  • most whānau will be faced with financial hardship
  • all students will be spread across the full range on the continuum of what learning progress they made while off-site. Some may have flourished and soared, many may have managed to just keep up, and many more will have struggled
Areas we will need to focus on
  • Whakawhanaunga - welcoming our staff and students back into the physical space and re-inducting into how we now work in our kura
  • Accommodating the full range of well-being situations all will be in
  • Establishing the full range of learning progressions and differentiating so that we can accelerate those who have struggled while maintaining the momentum of all
  • Progress towards qualifications

As far as 2020 qualifications are concerned we must have the time and energy to focus on those students who are graduating this year, while ensuring we keep building the foundations for quality qualifications for those students not graduating this year.

In devising our strategies for how we navigate our way through the reality of what impact Covid 19 has had on our schools and learners, and will continue to do so, and which allow us to have the focus described above we may need to be reminded of the following points made in the latest NZQA Update which included a slide show (unfortunately these important points were buried as bullet point 4 on slide 8 under the heading NZQA advises you consider):

  • using the flexibility of the qualification. 
    • Students don't need to complete a lower level qualification before moving to the next level. If students don't manage to achieve sufficient credits, those they subsequently achieve from a higher level can fill any gaps in achievement at a lower level.
    • Students can catch up and be awarded their certificate in 2021 if they are returning to school.

These points are a reminder that
  • students do not need to achieve Level 1 to gain Level 2 or Level 3 and, in fact, don't need L2 to get L3. 
  • on the way to achieving their final qualification students do not need to complete each lower level in a calendar year
HPSS example of the above in practice
  • on average, students at the end of Year 11 have 20 Level 1 credits and 10 at Level 2
  • during their Year 12 year, after picking up a further 50 credits (usually at Level 2), they are awarded Level 1 and are close to achieving Level 2
  • at the end of Year 12 many students may well not have met the requirements for Level 2 (though we ensure those graduating at the end of Year 12 achieve Level 1 or 2 - whatever is appropriate for them). This is not a concern for us because on their return the following year as a Year 13 student they meet the requirements of Level 2 (usually early in the year) and most go on to achieve Level 3.
All such an approach takes is an acceptance of the NZQA advice above, a mindset that rejects calendar year achievement of each qualification level and a lack of concern for league tables. At our school, we believe the most important measure is the quality of qualifications of leavers, not the steps along the way.

Positive outcomes are the reduction in teacher workload (setting, marking, moderating, resubmitting), the creation of more time to focus on learning, a reduction (though not complete elimination) of student stress and anxiety in relation to assessment and qualifications, the uncoupling of the assessment 'tail' waving the learning 'dog', and an increase in the quality of qualifications achieved.

What about those who only achieve Level 1?
Once again I can only call on my last 7 years at HPSS and the 20 years in my previous decile 1 school.
The latest statistics I can find are as follows:
  • 10% of students leave school without at least Level 1
  • 10% leave school with Level 1 as their highest qualification
At least we know that by doing things differently we can't have a more negative impact on the first group than we are already having. (I do believe, however, that with a much less focus on NCEA in Year 11 eg not exposing struggling learners to a year of 100-120 credits, then we have more chance in engaging them in school and learning and increasing the possibility they might return for a 4th year and have more chance of gaining their Level 1. That is certainly my current experience). However, in the meantime let's accept at least we won't be making their situation worse.

Quite rightly, the focus is on the second group and the actual percentage will differ across schools. I encourage schools to examine the pathways of those students who have left to determine whether Level 1 was necessary for them to be on that pathway. We have students who leave our school with Level 1 as their highest qualification, most of them on appropriate pathways, but none of them actually needed Level 1 to get onto that pathway, so they would not have been disadvantaged without achieving Level 1. As well, it is my experience that many of the students who currently leave with just Level 1, if they are on a slower assessment journey, largely focused on their intended pathway, actually end up achieving Level 2 after the end of 4 years at school.

A Strategy Worth Considering? - Slow it down and go more deeply
I shudder to think what the reduced 2020 school year will look like for our Year 11 learners if they are still faced with programmes based on assessing them against 120 credits. So I suggest the following as worthy of consideration:

1. Depending on a school's particular context it considers suspending NCEA Level 1 as a full qualification for its Year 11 learners for 2020.

But what would their year, and the year of the teacher look like?
  • Teachers would not have to amend their programmes. They would still teach the full important concepts, skills and knowledge of their specialist subject, laying strong foundations for success in the following year at Level 2
  • The large amount of time usually dedicated to the assessment of NCEA standards would be freed up for more learning
  • Schools could decide that each subject can offer a maximum of 2 standards per subject so that students are still progressing the qualification ladder (or whatever maximum suits them best in consultation with each Learning Area).
  • Because of more time allowing for deeper learning, schools may find that they can offer some of their Year 11 students assessment pitched at Level 2.
  • Feedback and reporting to students and parents could be as it currently is for Years 9 and 10 - against Level 6 of the NZC
2. Ease up on the credit chase for Level 2 for students in Year 12 who you know will be returning in 2021 as they will gain Level 2 during their Year 13 year.

There are lots, but the biggest shift is a mindset shift from school leaders, who then lead the mindset shift for their staff, students and parents. Putting a well-being lens over such a strategy is hard to argue against.

As well, if you are considering such a strategy it's good to know you are not alone. Over the last 10 days I have hosted 2 Zui (Zoom Hui) with 30 secondary school leaders who are seriously exploring suspending NCEA Level 1 as a full qualification this year and I want to thank them for sharpening my thinking and giving more detail to this proposed strategy.

It seems to me that the Ministry and NZQA are reluctant to message that a valid strategy for schools to consider, depending on their context, the suspension of Level 1 as a full year qualification in 2020. The closest to that we can get is the NZQA message above.

If you want to explore this type of strategy further, make contact and I can link a few people together.