NCEA Review - 5.9.2018

As a mathematician, I have ideas and beliefs about mathematics education. Some people will think my ideas are on point, some I know think that my ideas are ridiculous, wild and unfounded.

I'm not the best at explaining my beliefs. This is because I prefer to ask others questions about theirs so I can determine if

  • they can support their beliefs or if their is some flaw in their thinking;

  • they can convince me of their way of thinking without having an agenda; or

  • I'm wrong without them being swayed by my thoughts.

Luckily, I don't always have to take part in verbal conversations and can talk about my ideas with other professionals who don't know who I am. It's not full anonymity, but it will do.

I am part of a group of mathematicians from around New Zealand (mostly university educators) that have an interest in talking about the NCEA review. In particular at the moment, we are discussing "What's working well and who does/doesn't NCEA work for?". Because this is such a big topic, it has been split into 9 topics. The sub-headings below are the topic, with my idea beneath.

1. Subjects can be delivered in a fragmented way, where inter-related topics are assessed separately. Many of the connections between concepts are lost not only for the students but also for the teachers. This has led to a lack of coherence.

The students recognize this too. My students have asked several times about why we're using geometry in algebra or measurement. It seems designed to be non-holistic and compartmentalised.

2. NCEA internal assessments can be very time consuming for teachers and students.

- There is a significant workload for teachers dedicated to marking and assessing (writing assessments, implementing assessments, re-submissions and reassessments and moderation of those assessments). The constructs of the standards can make finding learning resources difficult.

- Overassessment can occur, with many courses emphasising internal assessment and teachers feeling pressure to put shortcuts into the learning to fit in more assessment.

I agree and disagree with this one. The detaails in the brackets can be very time consuming but there are such a variety of ways of assessing that teachers can find more efficient ways of assessing.

For the internals i dont personally feel like time constraints are causing shortcuts to learning. I can understand how other teachers see it differently.

3. With internal standards, teachers and students can collude to get more students passing. This happens in many ways. Teachers feel obliged to give students practice assessments that are almost identical to the actual assessment. (This can make external assessments seem even more unpredictable to the students.) Re-submissions and reassessments are allowed and there is latitude taken in how much advice or assistance is given to the students.

From what i understand, the rules are pretty clear on these dodgey practices. However i certainly have heard of particular schools taking advantage of the system in these ways

4. Failure on a bigger scale (not just a particular standard) is not seen as an option – it is expected that almost every student will pass almost everything. This seems to lead to less resilient students and systems that don’t have pathways for students to retake whole courses. But passing a course/year level should mean a student is ready for the next year level in that subject. What if a student needs more than one year to be proficient? The current system seems to encourage padding with ‘easier’ credits, to ensure passing, not to ensure understanding or future success.

No response. I don't know enough on this to comment.

5. The internal assessments reward short term learning and generally do not assess for students knowing and understanding concepts over longer term and rarely do they provide students to have multiple experiences with the same topic. This encourages students to learn for the assessment and then forget with little or no reinforcement.

This is a tough one. While i agree with the firsts sentence, the curriculum is design to be like a spiral - information learned this year is picked up next year, assuming the student continues the courses.

On the other hand, is it necessary for students to have all this info actively in their head or is it ok that it is just temporary info with some skills hopefully learned?

6. NCEA external assessments are overly complex and often obscure the learning objectives. The questions in some assessments (subjects, eg history) are predictable and in others they seemly purposely unpredictable (eg maths). Algebra at level 1 stands out as an example where there has been little consistency or coherency on the content of the exam, leaving teachers and student demoralised, and causing many schools to avoid assessing this vital learning.

I've just completed an analysis of the past 5 years of level 3 integration exams. I have come up with a prediction of what will be in the exam. We'll soon see if im right or not!

7. Students and schools striving for endorsements arrange courses so that students do not take all 3 external assessments giving students more time on the assessments they do attempt. The assessment writers seem to know this and sometimes seem to be writing assessments that take longer than an hour to work to the excellence level. This seems to disadvantage students who do want to or need to take all 3 standards.

If this it is true then it is worrying but I've not heard about this before. Most of my level 3 calculus students are doing all 3 externals. I can do them all in about 2 and a bit hours so understand that students who are new to the content will definitely struggle to complete them in time. Mathematics should not be about speed, it should be about working through the problem as best you can.

8. Because of the flexibility and diversity of choices within NCEA there is no consistency or common background of students who are qualified through the system. This means that employers and tertiary educators cannot assume ANY previous knowledge.

While i agree with the statement, i question the hidden premise that prior knowledge is required. If a person is put in a long term position that requires knowledge they don't have yet, then it can be learned.

9. Playing the game. Since the goal is passing, rather than learning, students (and teachers/schools) are often making ‘easy’ choices rather than striving. Striving can lead to failure and so this is discouraged. Students also play the game within standards and choose to not learn portions of it because it is hard and they do not have to do it to pass.

One of my biggest peeves is students playing the game in this way. They're very open about it, as are some of the teachers. Struggling is avoided and that, i think, is unfortunate.

10. Bias – intentional, unconscious, and institutional – allows schools to push Māori and Pasifica students as well as females into tracks where they are “more likely to be successful” but also where they have fewer and worse future outcomes. Instead of pushing ALL students to be all they can be the system allows for and accepts discriminatory consequences.

I don't really know much about this. I've heard about it, but I don't know if it's based on reality. If this happens, I don't think it is because of NCEA but because of people's biases in which case there couldn't be a system that could make this change. It would need to come from a change of perspective about the world which is not possible for such a large population with people of different beliefs.


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