Saturday, December 07, 2013

The truth about NCEA

Dale Carnegie, the head of Engineering at Victoria University, writes in the NZ Herald about the consequences of NCEA. I don't want to politicise this particularly but I was dead against NCEA. In 2002  NCEA opposition was one of ACT's main policy planks. I recall putting up the large billboards around the Hutt South. My main concern was that it would dumb down or de-motivate bright kids. That the grading was just too broad. My child is currently practising for Level One next year. She comes home with grade and  remark, "Excellence, but if you'd done so and so you'd get a stronger excellence."  But there is no 'stronger excellence'. So why bother to go the extra mile.

Anyway, here's Mr Carnegie's thoughts on the matter:

NCEA has been successful in many areas, especially keeping students in school longer. However it is very clear from our research that for very many students NCEA is not effectively preparing them for engineering study at university.
Our research over a large number of first-year engineering students reveals a systemic problem with the concept of the "achieved" NCEA grade. This grade spans a huge range - it can include excellence-level students who have made some minor errors, through to students who really have not gained competence in the material. Many potentially capable students report that they just "cruised through NCEA" knowing they would be able to obtain the achieved grade with minimal work. A failed assessment is "no big deal"as often they get to re-sit that assessment. When they take that work ethic and expectation into University study, they are in trouble. The result is that there is significant variability in "achieved-level" students' study habits, work ethic and subsequently, actual subject knowledge.
Compounding this issue, we are aware of secondary schools that actively discourage students who have only gained an achieved grade in mathematics at NCEA Level 2 from enrolling in that subject at Level 3. This seems to be due to a concern that those students might fail, with a consequential adverse effect on that school's league table standings. This removes many potential students from even being able to consider enrolment in engineering.
At the core of the problem is the lack of a real, meaningful grade. I advocate for a return to real percentage scores - these motivate students to improve themselves, to gain the best score they can. It would end the farce of excellent students receiving an achieved grade due to one or two minor mistakes. It would give the universities a real understanding of student ability.


Brendan McNeill said...


thor42 said...

I'd like to see percentages reintroduced too.

Allan said...

NCEA was floored from the very beginning because it was designed to hide mediocrity and failure. The sooner they bring back a system where ther is a definite Pass/Fail mark, and marked by external Examiners the better it will be for our Education system. The main reason that this will be better is that there will be something to aim for and a standard to achieve for the Students rather than this wooley headed Socilist ideal of interal assessment done by teachers trying to hide their own inadequate teaching abilities. NCEA is just another example of how the Socialists are destroying our society and the things that are important such as a sound education for the children.

Anonymous said...

Percentages, in many cases, are neither desirable nor particularly applicable. In a typical maths test (for example) a question will be split into A/M/E parts. This could be done by a percentage system but the reality is that GSM is probably as close as should ever be practical to get. Being able to get 75% of a test right doesn't mean you're demonstrating higher level knowledge worth a better mark. It could just mean you're able to get a lot of simple problems right.

NCEA does have a clear pass/fail system. In fact, unit standards (largely phased out) consist entirely of pass/fail (i.e. A/NA). Unless you only want two marks in total (NCEA is criticised for having too few at four... and unit standards a pretty generally loathed).

External examinations exist. You may have noticed that the Herald (and TVNZ and TV3 and and local papers and probably other places) reported their start.

The issue with NCEA is that half the criticisms directed at it don't apply but no-one bothers to find out.