NCEA change 101

It can be hard to keep track of all the NCEA changes and standards.  Here’s a refresher on the changes happening this year.

In 2018, a national review of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) was launched as part of the Education Conversation | Kōrero Mātauranga by then-Minister for Education, Chris Hipkins.1

Thousands participated in the research, with most respondents favouring changes to NCEA.

Read the Term 1 edition of School News HERE 

From here, the NCEA Change Programme was confirmed in February 2020, and began shortly after despite pandemic-related disruptions. It represents the biggest change to NCEA since the qualification was introduced in 2002. Changes will be phased in over the next few years, completed by 2027.

The 2018 NCEA Review: What needs to change?

As background to the 2018 review, the advisory group received a briefing on the five principles of a strong qualification: wellbeing, inclusion and equity, coherence, pathways and credibility. 

From the review, it was clear that NCEA was not meeting all five of these criteria. Only 51 percent of respondents to the quick survey believed NCEA was a valuable qualification, and only 33 percent thought NCEA enabled good teaching and learning. Similarly, 37 percent thought that NCEA “worked well”.1

Additional challenges were reported by Māori and Pacific ākonga. Māori students and stakeholders noted that te reo Māori, tikanga, identity and mātauranga Māori were not valued in NCEA. Both Māori and Pacific students reported being encouraged into less academically demanding pathways by teachers in English-medium contexts, even when that pathway would serve them well. 

NCEA does have advantages. Respondents believed that NCEA was a flexible qualification, and the internal/external system enabled different ways for students to achieve. The flexibility of NCEA was found to lie in its standards-based approach, which enabled success for students who might not have other experience in systems like School Certificate and Bursary. The standards-based approach allowed diversity of curriculum and a “personalised portfolio of learning” which the student designs themselves, raising learner agency. 

However, NCEA also has drawbacks. At the forefront of these is that assessment often drives the focus of senior schools. Teachers create courses for assessment rather than following the curriculum, in some cases inhibiting meaningful learning and resulting in gaps of knowledge. The credit system also resulted in many students “gamifying” NCEA, where accumulating credits is the focus.

NCEA also resulted in overassessment, creating workload issues for both students and teachers. The qualification can also be disjointed due to the siloed and atomised nature of assessment, leading to inadequately prepared students. Additionally, NCEA wasn’t always seen as credible due to its implementation. 

The review also included some key recommendations for strengthening NCEA. These included encouraging students to engage in richer learning; changing NCEA assessment; changing NCEA structure and; increasing support.

Curriculum change
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The big seven 

The rollout of NCEA changes are structured around seven key outcomes. 

  1. Improve the accessibility of NCEA

Previously, those with unpaid NCEA fees did not achieve formal recognition of their success. Many assessment standards, teaching and learning guides, exemplars and assessment resources were not equitably or inclusively designed. This inadvertently privileged certain learners due to cultural assumptions, disadvantaged others with disabilities, and excluded others. The process for applying for Special Assessment Conditions (SAC) was also complicated and prevented some learners from accessing support. 

In 2019, all NCEA fees were removed. Assessment design and associated resources are being designed to be inclusive and accessible, reducing the need for SACs. Existing SACs like large-text papers will be made available for anyone who needs them, and the application and evaluation process for SACs has been simplified. 

  1. Equal status for mātauranga Māori

Māori respondents to the 2018 NCEA review flagged te ao Māori pathways were limited, and disadvantaged ākonga Māori. 

Te ao Māori and mātauranga Māori will be integrated into the new ‘graduate profiles’ in NCEA and in the design of achievement standards.

Achievement standards and resources will now have Māori centred contexts and associated exemplars. Standards and assessment resources will also be designed with inclusion in mind, allowing for diverse cultural perspectives. More subjects are being developed to ensure te ao Māori pathways are available and acknowledged and supported in NCEA. 

Teachers will also be supported to improve cultural competency and inclusiveness in NCEA and assessment. 

  1. Strengthen literacy and numeracy | te reo matatini me te pāngarau requirements and assessments

Not every NCEA learner achieves literacy and numeracy essential for work and later life. These new literacy and numeracy standards are co-requisite to NCEA. They will become mandatory this year. 

The new standards made headlines late last year when the trial assessments became overloaded, resulting in a crash that disadvantaged some students. 

In response the Ministry of Education said “student achievement rates are expected to improve as students and teachers become more familiar with the requirements of the standards, and targeted teaching and learning develops.”

Students will be allowed to attempt the tests twice a year, and are allowed multiple attempts over their senior years. For the first cohort in 2024 and 2025, students will also be given the option to reach the literacy and numeracy requirement through internally-assessed standards. 

  1. Fewer, larger standards

Each standard for each subject will be rebuilt, covering a broader range of knowledge, capabilities and skills. There will be a total of 20 credits per subject and each standard will be worth four to six credits. External assessments will be expanded beyond exams to include portfolios, reports, investigations, performances and common assessment tasks. This will help balance the available credits from internal and external assessments. 

Different knowledge systems will be acknowledged where appropriate within new and existing subjects, including but not limited to mātauranga Māori, vocational education and Pacific people’s knowledge. 

Vocational courses with “fewer, larger standards” are still being developed in collaboration with industry partners. Industry-derived standards will support the development of coherent vocational courses in NCEA. 

Endorsements will include Achieved as well as Merit and Excellence. 

Registered courses will be required to describe their focus, and how they can be used to further learning for students in the future.

These changes aim to improve depth and quality of learning per the feedback in the 2018 NCEA Review.

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  1. Simplify NCEA structure

Because of the current complex structure, teachers and students are struggling with high workloads and can be confused about features such as “carry-over” credits. There’s also a pressure for teachers to allow multiple resubmissions. 

Now, only 60 credits will be required to pass each NCEA level, and they cannot be carried over. Resubmissions will only be allowed when they might take a student from Not Achieved, to Achieved. 

  1. Clearer pathways

Each level of NCEA will have a “graduate profile” which describes what the student can do, and their knowledge gained. 

NCEA Level 1 will prepare students with basic skills for success later in life, equipping them with functional literacy and numeracy skills. 

NCEA Level 2 and 3 will build on Level 1, specialising students’ knowledge and skills. 

Graduate profiles will also include competencies in te ao Māori and mātauranga Māori. 

A Vocational Entrance Award will also be developed, similar to UE qualification. This will demonstrate to industry employers that a student has done necessary learning required and is ready for direct entry to higher-level vocational education or training. Vocational Pathways will also be enhanced, improving its usefulness for navigating and planning. 

The Record of Achievement will be refined, outlining what the student knows and can do. Certificate endorsements and their NCEA achievements will be recorded, as well as the brief course descriptions. 

  1. NCEA Level 1 becomes optional

One of the suggestions from the 2018 NCEA Review was to condense NCEA. Some suggested that removing Level 1 would allow deeper learning, and remove the focus on assessment. 

Currently, NCEA Level 1 is intended to introduce students to the format of NCEA and prepare them. Māori and Pacific students also indicated they highly valued Level 1. 

Additionally, 10 percent of students will receive NCEA Level 1 as their highest qualification. Removing it completely would disadvantage these students. 

Level 1 is now optional, leaving leaders to decide whether the model best serves their students, and enabling innovation for those that choose not to adopt the standard. 

In 2024

The NCEA Change programme is still being implemented. This year, the new NCEA Level 1 achievement standards will replace existing ones. All Levels will now require 60-credits. 

The new te reo matatini, pāngarau, literacy and numeracy co-requisite will now become mandatory, with learners only awarded the NCEA qualification once they meet the 20-credit co-requisite. The co-requisite credits cannot be used toward the 60-credit NCEA qualification. In 2024 and 2025, learners will have the option to meet the 20-credit co-requisite through either the new standards, or existing “literacy and numeracy-rich” standards. These standards can be found on the NCEA website. 

Learners will only need to complete the co-requisite once. Credits from the level below will no longer be able to be “carried over”. Any credits learners already have can be used toward their 60-credit NCEA qualifications. 

Course and certificate endorsement requirements remain the same, with 14 or more credits at Achieved, Merit or Excellence (including three internal and three external) to gain a course endorsement. Certificate endorsement requires 50 or more credits at Merit or Excellence. 

All NCEA subjects and wāhanga ako are being re-developed with four achievement standards: two internal and two external, worth 20 credits. Teachers can design NCEA courses using achievement standards from two or more NCEA subjects. 

New materials and support can be accessed from the NCEA website. Kaiako can also contact their local Te Mahau office for support. 

Resources: 1New Zealand Council for Educational Research. 2018. The NCEA Review: Findings from the public engagement on the future of NCEA. Wellington, New Zealand. 

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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