Is now our opportunity to REALLY reimagine NCEA and definitions of success?

Contemplating silver linings...

There is one thing for sure. We are living in complex times. As teachers, and educational leaders we are in the throes of planning how we might deliver remote teaching and learning when and if we need to. Personally, I am quite excited as to how we are going about this and get the sense that whatever the outcome, whether we go remote or not (I very much suspect we will), the kind of urgency this situation has created is exactly the context needed for innovation and all teachers willingly becoming agents of change. Don't get me wrong, I am not thankful for the crises we are experiencing, I am simply thankful that teaching and learning has the potential to be moved forward and improved exponentially in the coming months.

But what about NCEA? Would now be the perfect opportunity to alleviate a whole lot of pressure on students and teachers alike whilst also imagining a definition of success that is actually fit for purpose?? I say - HELL YES!

What could we do?

Let's get rid of Level One NCEA altogether (here's an idea, let's just focus on learning).
Let's make Level Two NCEA "the" base level national qualification for University Entrance and tertiary providers.
Let's replace Level Three with a focus on student's developing their PoPE (their personally curated Portfolio of Personal Excellence). Year 13 could then also become the second year of Level Two NCEA (if needed) or simply a time to focus on personal excellence and preparing for various pathways.

Why could this be a good idea? 

In terms of our very current and real context, it would mean no group of students would be needing to stress about gaining all of their Level Two NCEA certificate this year. Current Year 13s could refocus on their personal interests and pathways. Current Year 12s would know that there is no rush, that we and they have time. Let's enjoy it.

From a purely economic perspective nationally we could save a sh%tload of money and avoid the current paralysis by working group. Imagine how we could close the digital divide with that extra money??!!

It would stop senior schools using NCEA as a proxy for the NZC. It would mean schools would need to refocus on what learning is important, not just what high stakes assessment dictate is important.

It would still provide universities with an arbitrary national assessment to use as a magical sorting hat whilst we also privileging far more rich and diverse measures and evidence of personal excellence that were actually relevant to our young people - win win if ever I saw one!

Plus there is no reason why tertiary bodies couldn't leverage PoPEs as part of their entry requirements. It could enable different Universities and faculties to request all of those specific qualities that they don't think schools deliver. I know I'm up for the challenge if they are.

I could imagine PoPEs being way more useful for employers in terms of rich and relevant evidence related to 21st Century Skills (for example using the 21C Skills Lab framework below).


Source: 21C Skills Lab Framework
But what would be more exciting is that it would be genuinely personal and not pre-determined by some clunky national body bound by policy and process. These national bodies mean well but just how much time, money and resources need to be wasted before we recognise that definitions of success don't need to be nationally measured, ranked and imbued with antiquated (often colonialist) definitions of "rigour" to matter???

What would we lose? 

I am not actually sure we would lose much. You still have mechanisms for measuring, sorting, ranking, using the assessment tail to wag the dog - if that's what floats your boat.

You can even be assured of some level of consistency and sameness across the board, Because let's face it, NCEA is ultimately being used as a vehicle to control what we teach in our schools.

Stress. Lack of wellbeing. We would lose this for our students and teachers. You don't reduce stress and overwork by leading massive large scale change. You do it by leading a massive scaling back. Let's do it.

What would we gain?

We would regain freedom. Creativity. The opportunity to genuinely personalise programmes of learning and definitions of success.

If as a school or as an educator you are worried about the loss of Classics, History, Latin, Health, Media or whatever at Level One. No worries. Teach it. Love it. Share your passions with your learners. Prepare them for Level Two.

We would regain the NZC as our main mechanism for guiding learning design in the senior years, particularly at Years 11 and 13. Our NZC is fabulous. Let's reclaim it.

We would have time for our young people to really do their best. With only one definitive national qualification we could take the time to support excellent outcomes, be responsive to our learners, we could genuinely assess them when ready. Plus we would have an inbuilt victory lap year, if you need more time - we got it!

So what would this PoPE look like?

Guess what? We don't need to sweat that. We don't need to even define it. We don't need 50 million working groups to consult and build this thing, because, the beauty of it, is that it is what it says it is - it's personal. It is for the learner, who is supposedly at the centre of what we do, to determine and define and design it for themselves.

So my suggestion, whilst we are rolling with the daily announcements and preparing for what ever may be, why don't we take the opportunity to take a load AND really innovate, really reimagine NCEA and redefine success and find the silver lining of the situation we find ourselves in.

Is this happening anywhere else? 

Yes. Sort of. Mastery.org is used across several schools in the US. THINK Global School has this approach. There are a number of schools in Australia also focusing on personal portfolios and I have a feeling this is intrinsic to the Big Picture Learning group. As far as I know all these schools use this blended approach. Limited national qualifications as a gateway and personal portfolios as a measure of personal success. And as far as I know the sky hasn't fallen.

So come on, let's be like Little Chicken and show some big courage.

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