NCEA vs Learning.

I must admit to finding the potential offered to us in the current NCEA review to be something not only very important but also very exciting.

I do have one concern though. I fear that we are about to go down the same path that we have already gone down. A path that led to an over complicated assessment system where the beauty of its flexibility somehow got lost in a world of over assessment, anxiety and a disturbingly fragmented approach to learning in the senior years that was, at its worst, a three year endeavor to gather and accumulate credits.

Somehow what initially was a system that presented us with a flexible and responsive approach to assessment has become as restrictive as the exam heavy system is replaced.

On reflection I guess this was inevitable as from the very beginning we, as educators, focused on NCEA, the assessment, rather than what learning could look like in the senior years of our secondary schools. Our desire to do the right thing meant that we became preoccupied with assessment criteria, moderation and accountability. We did this for the very best of reasons, we wanted to be accountable and confident that we were giving all of our learners a fair go at gaining national qualifications. The downside was that we missed the opportunity to review what learning could look like and as a result we now have a senior curriculum that is, in reality, made up of a series of fragmented NCEA assessment points.

I fear we are about to go down the same path and make the same mistakes again. We are framing our current debate once again around NCEA. The driver appears to be the assessment system and we run the risk of continuing to assess learning and not assess for learning.

We have this opportunity to look at what learning could and should look like in our senior years. We have this opportunity to break from the repetitive, fragmented approach to learning. We have an opportunity to focus on learning not just assessment, hopefully in doing so we can get some joy back into the senior learning years. At present I fear we are stifling the joy of learning as we pursue an assessment heavy exercise where experimentation is impossible in a world where failure is a constant threat and jumping through the right hoops at the right time in the right way is seen as they desirable way to learn and move through the stages of advanced learning.

If there is a fear of failure then students will inevitably look for the path of least resistance, rather than experiment and grow through trial and error they will complete what they know to be the answer or response required to gain the credits. learning becomes the simple fact of fulfilling achievement criteria, a narrow and far from satisfying approach to learning. Of course standards, assessments and moderation are all vitally important but we have one chance to make sure the assessment tail does not wag the learning dog as it has in the past.

So far I feel well and truly consulted in the initial stages of this review process. I have attended Ministry run workshops, participated in the regional Principals association discussion, filled out on line surveys and been visited at my school for an individual interview on my thoughts. Next term I have the opportunity to meet with representatives from the review team in Wellington. I certainly feel that I have had my opportunity to express my hopes and fears.

My hope remains  that we seize this opportunity to look at what learning could look like as we move forward. Assessment is important but lets make sure it comes out of the learning experience and does not drive it from the front.


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