Lifting educational achievement requires better measurement

Media release
13 March, 2018

Wellington (12 March 2018): At the same time as NCEA completion rates have been increasing, with more children than ever earning an NCEA diploma, New Zealand’s performance on international benchmarks in numeracy and literacy has been flat or declining.

Solving the puzzle requires knowing more about real student achievement.

Unfortunately, existing measures do a poor job in measuring student achievement.

The New Zealand Initiative’s new report, Score! Transforming NCEA Data, argues that we need better student performance measures than NCEA completion rates, the subject of government targets since 2012. There are too many differences across courses, and too many ways of building certificates, for NCEA completion rates to provide any meaningful measure of student performance.
The report follows on from the Initiative’s prior report on failings in NCEA, Spoiled by Choice: How NCEA hampers education, and what it needs to succeed, released last week.

Score! Transforming NCEA Data proposes a better measure of student performance – the Weighted Relative Performance Index (WRPI).

“We should be weighing NCEA credits rather than simply counting credits or counting excellences,” says the Initiative’s Chief Economist and report co-author, Dr Eric Crampton. “Recognising the differences in difficulty across standards gives a better measure of student performance. Better measurement of student performance can lead to better measurement of school performance.”

NCEA was designed to provide a ‘parity of esteem’ across different ways of earning a qualification. But it has resulted in employers and universities having a difficult time distinguishing among candidates’ ability when presented with similar certificates. And it risks encouraging schools to direct students to less challenging courses in order to achieve targeted NCEA completion rates.

The Initiative’s new student achievement measure provides a better indicator of student relative achievement.

The report provides a case study using the new measure to determine whether the quality of new teachers has been changing. One potential explanation for declining student numeracy outcomes is declining teacher quality.

“When we went to the Statistics New Zealand Data Lab, our new measure showed us that the quality of new teachers has, if anything, been increasing rather than decreasing,” said Dr Eric Crampton. “While that is definitely encouraging for the quality of the education sector, it means that there is important work still to be done in explaining declining student numeracy.”

The Initiative’s Executive Director, Dr Oliver Hartwich, added: “Our report is not about the merits or shortcomings of ranking students. It is about recognising that our national award system encourages students to opt for easy-to-pass courses.”

“Our measure gives credit where it’s due.”

Read more:
You can download Score! Transforming NCEA Data on our website.


Dr Eric Crampton 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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