NCEA Change Package 2.0 - dreaming of a different outcome

Since the announcement of the NCEA Change Package I have vacillated between angry, sad, angry, sad, frustrated and mystified. I constantly seem to be asking myself - how did we land here? How did we end up with a package which feels so very much like, at best, a step backwards and worst a damaging double down on industrial definitions of knowledge as defined by subjects. And even worse, how did we end up with a package which totally failed to address  issues around well being and workload for our young people?

My primary concerns are outlined here:
  • In 2018 we were presented with innovative, future focused opportunities that we were given the opportunity to feedback on. In 2019 we have been presented with a very very different NCEA Change Package that we do not have the opportunity to provide feedback on. 
  • It is clear that the latter document was the direct result of the intervention of the coalition of Principals who were upset by the innovations presented in the “big opportunities”. This resulted in the Professional Advisory Group being formed, the membership of which was limited to a group of educators who came from schools delivering relatively traditional approaches to NCEA thereby limiting the opportunity for new recommendations being “future-proofed”.   
  • The current system is flexible and future-focused. We are only just making good use of flexibility and ability to contextualise the many standards we have available. It feels like we are about to take a backwards step just as we are realising the potential of the current NCEA framework.  
  • The NCEA Change Package represents a missed opportunity to genuinely reduce credits and the associated stress and anxiety. We have increased and expanded the focus on high stakes assessment, starting as early as Year Seven, meaning students will be focusing on NCEA for seven years (more than half) of their school life. 
A more detailed collection of concerns from myself and others can be read here

But that's enough about the complaints... I am actually way more interested in what would have been better. What would the NCEA package look like if I had my way? The following is really just some thinking out loud and doesn't pretend to be the answer, more the beginnings of an idea. It is guided by the ideas and theories we are seeing evolve in texts such as Fadel, Bialik and Trilling's Four-Dimensional Education, Fullan's global competencies as outlined in Education Plus and Wagner and Dintersmith's Most Likely to Succeed. It is informed by my experience at Hobsonsonville Point Secondary School (and owe's much to the brains of Maurie Abraham, Steve Mouldey, Di Cavallo and Heemi McDonald with whom I discussed these ideas with ad nauseam) and more recently in the work I am doing at Albany Senior High School where I am seeing first hand the value of Impact Projects and how they can develop very real skills and competencies that more traditional subjects do not. 

Anyhoo. Waffle over. My thinking is this. What would it have looked like if we took a deep dive into to the complexity of learning and we decided it would be worth uncoupling the knowledge, subject content and concepts from the skills and competencies? I think this could be useful as we often struggle to articulate what it is we are actually assessing with subjects often being a proxy for texting skills. Would it be worthwhile or even useful to think of subjects and concepts as topics and then also identify and assess a broad range of skills and competencies? The reality is that skills and competencies are best taught and developed within a context. I don't think we need to kill subjects, I do however think we need to be clear about precisely what it is we are trying to teach, assess and measure. So what if we pulled it all apart and identified not only the threshold content/knowledge/subject stuff but we then also identified the skills and competencies we (as teachers, employers, tertiary providers and society) keep saying we value and we turned them all into a suite of micro credentials? Or maybe the subject part stayed as NCEA standards and the skills and competencies became supporting micro credentials, or at the very least a more future focused take on unit standards. 

The following is an imagined matrix that simply takes the NZC learning areas and part of their statements and combines it with Fullan's Global Competencies with localised cultural competencies added to round out the suite of skills we value. Consider it a starting point. It there something to being more specific about what it is we are actually assessing? 

And then imagine we used these matrices to construct a model of teaching and learning that fitted our context and local curriculum. The two could be combined to deliver traditional subjects if that's what we value.

Or could be used in such a way that that it supported more connected and integrated approaches.

Students could develop a record of learning that captured their ability to demonstrate skills and competencies through a range of contexts and subjects. Of course the hexagons above are just high level learning areas and skills, we would of course need to grapple with how we chunked each up into sub topics and skills. But wouldn't that be fun!

And what if we let go of this notion of 50:50 internal and external and instead recognized that the most authentic means of demonstrating your subject, content, skills and content happened within the context of your learning and localized curriculum. So instead of needing to rely on external markers we instead developed a national platform where nationally supported peer marking and moderation could happen anytime, anywhere. Teachers would be up-skilled, workload would be reduced thanks to less double handling and increased sense of efficacy and increased confidence gained from working in partnership with national markers and moderators. 

Alternatively, you could remove ALL high stakes assessments from schools and teachers could simply support students to upload evidence for their micro credentials - if and when they are ready. I have day dreamed about this approach for many years. 

And as Maurie Abraham has suggested in the past, why don't we simply expect students to attain one certificate - that being their leaving certificate. Whether it be at Level One, Two or Three. 

As I stated earlier. I don't pretend this is the answer, but I do think it could be an idea or even a seed that could feed into a more complex way thinking about the "critical body of knowledge" our young people need to thrive and THEN think about how we go about assessing "what" it is "we value". It is simply not good enough to resort back to outdated concepts of subjects alone. It is not okay to move away from the flexibility which has been integral to NZ being seen as leaders in future focused assessment approaches. And we might as well just get on and tackle the challenge of how we might assess skills and competencies. Yep, that work will be complex, but goddam it will be good. We simply must fight to retain how space as international leaders in this area. I, for one, am not going to let our fan-freakin-tastic NZC be undermined by a nervously traditional approach to NCEA.

Would love to hear your ideas. Rather than focusing what is wrong with the present package, I am keen to hear what you think could be better. Anyone?


  1. Kia ora Claire

    I always enjoy reading your posts but unless I am reading it wrong this one has me somewhat puzzled. Your diagram labelled 'NCEA through integrated subject and projects' is a really interesting senior school curriculum framework but the NCEA label in the title seems to suggest that you are proposing it as an assessment framework. I am not sure why it is so important to assess each hexagon. Develop the green by all means, integrate the green and the blue, go with the yellow - but there doesn't seem any need to me to assess any of that at the level of national credentialing. We only need 60 credits and each of Level 2 and 3. Draw them from the blue boxes but leave the rest alone from a national assessment point of view so that they can function to support an engaging and challenging curriculum.

    As far as external/internal assessment is concerned your 'national platform (of) nationally supported peer marking and moderation' seems like a really good external assessment example that should hopefully reduce the unfortunate conflation (and therefore criticism) of external assessment and exams.



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