Media release: NCEA failing disadvantaged students

Media release
4 March, 2018

Wellington (4 March 2018): The New Zealand Initiative’s newest report Spoiled by Choice analyses the history and evolution of NCEA; and its impact on students, teachers and end-users. 15 years of sustained decline in our students’ performance in PISA assessments testifies to NCEA’s negative unintended consequences. The report identifies solutions that can be easily implemented within the terms of the NCEA review.

“NCEA might be good for self-esteem, but it is failing too many students - particularly disadvantaged students - and needs to be reformed,” says the New Zealand Initiative’s latest report Spoiled by Choice: How NCEA hampers education, and what it needs to succeed.
“Since the early 2000s, international research has shown that New Zealand 15-year-olds’ reading and maths skills have declined, while NCEA pass rates have risen dramatically,” says report author Briar Lipson, a former deputy Principal and maths teacher from the UK.

“NCEA ensures most New Zealand students leave school with a certificate. This should be something to celebrate because success builds self-esteem. But what use is NCEA success if students still lack basic skills in reading and maths?"
“In 2014 our very own Tertiary Education Commission found that among a sample of Year 12 students with NCEA Level 2, 40% could not read functionally, and 42% had not grasped the basics of maths. And yet since then still nothing has been done."
“It is a case of unintended negative consequences which are no fault of teachers, but a fault of the assessment system."
“NCEA’s greatest strength is its flexibility. But it is bought at an unquantified cost. And that cost is borne most heavily by already-disadvantaged students. For a system designed to raise equity, this is too high a price to pay."
“Under NCEA, well-advised or motivated students can still achieve a broad and valuable education. But for students who fall outside these categories, NCEA also offers a plethora of ‘safer’ alternatives which will maximise NCEA success by avoiding challenging content. With pressure on teachers and schools to drive up NCEA pass rates, some students may even be encouraged towards these ‘safer’ choices." 
“It is time we raised our expectations of all New Zealand students by re-instating a core curriculum all students must master. Until we do this NCEA will continue to paint an alluring but ultimately-false picture of ever-improving performance and rising equity."
“We can also reduce teachers’ workloads and improve students’ learning if we reduce the number of standards, increase external assessment and make it harder to teach to the test. These changes will support educators to see beyond the numbers game, to rebalance the goals of schooling, and restore passion and purpose to the heart of the noble profession."
“Our research is timely. The required changes could be easily achieved within the parameters Minister Hipkins has set for NCEA’s review. It will take political courage, but teachers and students recognise the problems, New Zealand cannot afford to slip further in the international rankings, and the solutions are surprisingly clear.”

Read more:
You can download Spoiled by Choice: How NCEA hampers education, and what it needs to succeed on our website.


Briar Lipson is available for interviews, please contact:

Linda Heerink, Communications Officer
The New Zealand Initiative
Phone: +64 4 494 9109
Mobile: +64 21 172 8036

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