Dropping NCEA Level 1

There has been much discussion around dropping NCEA Level 1 or reducing it to 40 credits in order to focus on bringing students up to the required levels of Literacy and Numeracy in order to be able to succeed in NCEA Level 2. Hobsonville Point secondary school had already dropped NCEA Level 1 before the Ministry review took place. They saw the focus on credits and constant assessment as limiting deeper learning as there was less time to explore topics of interest and less time for learning.  "International studies have confirmed that a credit-focused educational model promotes superficial learning, not the quality stuff that sticks with us" (Stuff June 2018).

Fairfield College and Rototuna Senior High School have also dropped NCEA Level 1 but Rototuna gives the students some experience of sitting an external assessment ie not everything needs to be assessed. Students at all 3 schools will still do Level 1 courses but not assessed for NCEA leaving more time for learning.

I was working for Team Solutions, University of Auckland, when NCEA came into being and as a facilitator was training teachers in the new qualification in Auckland & Northland. I later went back to a school to teach NCEA in 2 different subject areas. NCEA was never set up to be a credit-driven qualification and achievement standards were never meant to become the class programme or to replace the curriculum. The original idea was to offer choice and have students assessed when they are ready to be assessed. If, as has been suggested, students might do a project(s) and focus on what they are really interested in, then assessment would come when teachers can see the evidence for a standard appearing within the project and guide the student to what else may be required. Why does every student have to do the same standard at the same time and for the same length of time? Isn't it better that some students can take longer but eventually fulfill the criteria for success rather than constantly fail the achievement standards because they were not given enough time? Why do the "more able" students have to wait for others when they might achieve 2 standards in the same time frame? Ah but what about moderation say the naysayers? Moderation requires a sample from the class and it is checking that the teacher's assessment matches with the norm. And by the way some people take twice as long as others to gain a driver's licence. I can visualise Basil Fawlty saying "No! You will not get a driver's licence  because you took too long to learn how to drive. The fact that you drive better than the fast ones is immaterial!

More formative assessment is required in the learning process as a diet of constant high-stakes assessment leads to superficial justintime learning that is not embedded and quickly forgotten. An optimal environment and student agency is key as the 21st century leaps into the digital technologies curriculum and computational thinking.


  1. Thanks for unpacking this for us Cheryl. Your perspective is really helpful. I am looking forward to seeing what the response of your leadership team is to this new environment.


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