The tension between assessment and learning is one that all teachers will be familiar with. A secondary school curriculum that's driven by NCEA is something that many schools grapple with - yes we know that student achievement as measured by our national qualification is essential and central to our work, but there are other worthwhile and valid goals for schooling too. And to what extent are we really making use of the flexibility that our curriculum and assessment system allows? Recent evidence would suggest not much - and that's encouraged by the powers that be.
One of the premises and key features of NCEA is that it's modular and allows a whole lot of flexibility in designing assessments that adapt to students' & school communities' interests and needs. At the Select Committee last week when NZQA was being questioned about their annual report, the Chief Exec, Karen Poutasi revealed something that was concerning in this regard.
What she said was that over 90% of NCEA courses offer standards from single subject areas, and that this is a good thing because it shows they are 'coherent'. The implication here is that QA does not approve of courses that use NCEA standards from a range of subject areas. This narrowing of the scope and flexibility of NCEA has also been heavily encouraged by the universities with their insistence on students not just achieving level 3 but having 3 lots of 14 credits from approved subjects - which contributed significantly to the big dip in UE last year.
What's going on here? Why is a course that uses standards from a range of areas, say a cross-disciplinary course on an issue like climate change (which could use social studies, geography and physics standards) or a combined ag-hort and business studies course considered 'incoherent' , and thus is unlikely for schools to offer?
The conservatism of universities has a chilling effect on the senior secondary school curriculum, and has for years, but this is a crazy situation when only around 30% of students go on to university. What's more NZQA doesn't work for the universities and should be encouraging schools to make use of the flexibilities of NCEA rather than enforcing an agenda that's often not in the interests of the majority of students.