NCEA changes a welcome start

Briar Lipson
Insights Newsletter
17 May, 2019

This week, we were happy to see the changes to NCEA announced by Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

It is encouraging that the Minister’s NCEA Change Package mirrors so many of the recommendations in our 2018 report, Spoiled by Choice: How NCEA hampers education, and what it needs to succeed. For example, the announced package includes:

  • Strengthen literacy and numeracy requirements
  • Re-establish coherent subjects
  • Reduce the number of standards, and
  • Reduce reliance on internal assessment

Since NCEA testing began in 2002 the performance of 15-year old New Zealand students in the core areas of reading, maths and science has consistently declined, according to international benchmarks. Assuming it is robustly implemented, what the Minister laid out today should help reverse this downturn.

The Minister’s Change Package is a meaningful step in the right direction. It trades a little of NCEA’s vast flexibility for greater rigour and reliability, better teaching and less assessment-workload for teachers. There are still many details to be worked out through the review of standards and re-design of external assessments, but this marks a promising start.

On the role and importance of subjects, encouraging signals have been made. Subjects exist in the school curriculum for well-established and helpful reasons. A review that strengthens their role, and the voice of subject experts, will improve NCEA for everyone. It could also make teaching more appealing to the passionate graduates we need to attract to the profession.

Spoiled by Choice unpacked the various reasons why NCEA’s unique design undermines high expectations and encourages teaching to the test. Highly predictable external assessments and over-reliance on internal assessments were two of the causes.

What is proposed is not radical or an overhaul, just common-sense. Hopefully, Minister Hipkins will stay close to the implementation and adopt a similarly incremental approach to the Tomorrow’s Schools review.

The final recommendation in our report Spoiled by Choice called for the Ministry of Education to commission independent analysis. By using an evidence-based approach the Ministry, and the Minister will be able to monitor whether these reforms are having the desired effect on the educational performance of our students.

In the coming months, The New Zealand Initiative will be publishing a sequel report on the New Zealand curriculum. In the meantime, we are happy to see education policy move in the right direction.

Briar Lipson’s report Spoiled by Choice: How NCEA hampers education, and what it needs to succeed and a two-page summary are available here.

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