25 Jun 2021

Dunedin school drops NCEA Level 1 to ease assessment fatigue

From Checkpoint, 5:44 pm on 25 June 2021

A Dunedin school is dropping NCEA level 1 to avoid assessment fatigue, and to allow more flexibility in teaching.

Level 1 is not compulsory, and following a review and consultation with parents, St Hilda's Collegiate believes cutting it will mean more quality teaching time and students being better prepared for Year 12, with less stress.

"By doing three years of very similar assessments there is the danger of assessment fatigue by Year 13," acting principal Judy Maw told Checkpoint.

"What happens in NCEA assessment is you often have some form of practice assessment, a review, feedback on a practice assessment and the actual assessment, which means that teaching time, class time, is often focused only on assessment.

"We felt that we had the ability to create a better Year 11 course, which would prepare our girls better, going into Year 12 and 13 NCEA.

"NCEA has a lot of really good features, and the flexibility of NCEA being optional."

She said mainly it is students suffering assessment fatigue.

"We were mainly concerned about the students, the drop-off in engagement. The feeling that it was pretty much 'same old, same old'.

"Also the sense that you didn't get a chance to go deeper into things… Year 11 is quite early in your educational career to be specialising.

"I know one of the major changes that's coming through with the NCEA review is that Year 11 is aiming to be a much more general qualification or a general programme."

The level of stress students face has had an influence on the decision.

"Part of the way that NCEA assessment works, it's both internal and external so it keeps [stress] at a reasonably high level. There are not many times where it goes down.

"Across the country, I don't think we'd be alone in this, anxiety around grades, anxiety about how many credits, looking for ways to make sure they get it right, those things come through."

Maw said she does not think it is a fear of failure, but the pressure to be perfect.

"That can be quite hard as well. The need to always try and aim for the 'Excellence', which, while that aspirational idea is always really good, it can be quite hard to maintain a constant level of that.

"By changing what we're going to do, we think we can probably have more of a chance with students to understand that actually you can get things not quite right, and build on that and learn from it and carry on.

"But when something is there that if you don't get it right that's at the end of it, and you move on to something else, that makes it a bit harder.

"We're trying to tell people that it's okay to be the best you can be. We still want our students to be aiming for the very best results, those best achievements in all they do. But we want to give them time to actually build their skills, to actually learn what it is to learn.

"To have control over it, to be able to critically assess things to take the time to look at what they're doing and reflect on it."

She said there will still be some NCEA-style assessments in the school's Year 11 programme, to prepare students for things like sitting a three-hour exam, and creating a portfolio.