With NCEA, nothing endures but change

Dr Michael Johnston
Insights Newsletter
19 May, 2023

It is two decades since NCEA became New Zealand’s qualification system for secondary school students. It replaced a very traditional, exam-based system – School Certificate and University Entrance-Bursary.

NCEA is anything but traditional. In fact, it is unique in the world. It offers a vast assortment of assessment options. Students undertake multiple assessments, called standards, in each subject they study. Each successfully completed standard contributes credits towards qualifications.

In just about every year since the full implementation of NCEA in 2004, there has been some change, minor or major, to the system. For the past five years it has been under review. Both the design of the system itself, and all the achievement standards are in the process of being replaced.

Recently, the Ministry of Education delayed the implementation of the new NCEA Level 2 and 3 standards for a year. They will begin to be used in 2026 and 2027 respectively. But the Level 1 standards will not be delayed. They will be introduced next year.

This is a strange move.

In 2024, Year 11 students will be assessed with the new Level 1 standards. But when they go onto Years 12 and 13, they will be assessed with the existing Level 2 and 3 standards.

The new standards completely reconfigure existing subjects, mashing some of them together. At Level 1, for example, Biology and Chemistry are to be assessed as a single subject. As a result, there will be a mismatch between the new and the old for next year’s Year 11s as they progress through the system.

In another strange move, the ‘refreshed’ New Zealand Curriculum won’t be fully implemented until 2027, the same year as the new Level 3 standards. NCEA is supposed to assess the curriculum. So, for three years, schools will be operating with assessments for a curriculum that does not yet exist.

Many schools are getting frustrated with the continuous emanation of chaos and uncertainty from the Ministry. St Cuthberts College has announced that it is giving up on both the Year 11 curriculum and assessment for NCEA Level 1. It is developing its own Year 11 curriculum and diploma.

Other schools gave up on NCEA some time ago. Many now use Cambridge International exams or the International Baccalaureate.

By the time the new standards and curriculum are fully implemented, there may be no schools left that want to use them.

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