NCEA overhaul: fees scrapped, literacy and numeracy benchmarks brought in

5:32 pm on 13 May 2019

NCEA fees will be scrapped and the qualification's literacy and numeracy requirements will be increased in a major overhaul of the qualification, the government has announced.

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Photo: luckybusiness / 123RF

The changes, to be phased in over four years starting from next year, are part of a major overhaul of the qualification.

The government says there are too many barriers to NCEA, so it is axing the qualification's $76.70-a-year fee, and $30 fee for each Scholarship exam subject - a change which will apply also to students undertaking NCEA and NZ Scholarship this year.

Level one of the NCEA will stay, and the number of credits required to get each level will drop from 80 to 60.

However, credits from lower levels will no longer count toward higher levels of the qualification, and students will not be allowed to resubmit assignments unless they are trying to improve from a fail grade.

There will be a new externally-marked 20-credit literacy and numeracy benchmark.

The single common benchmark in English and te reo Māori will provide a clear standard to evaluate performance and level of quality across literacy and numeracy, the NCEA document said.

"It must be met to gain any level of NCEA and can be assessed against whenever students are ready."

The standards would be externally graded, to avoid increasing teacher workload and to guarantee credibility, the document said.

There will be fewer achievement standards for each subject, but each would be broader.

The National Certificates of Educational Achievement were phased in from 2002. Students could achieve the certificate at level one, two or three by completing sufficient individual achievement or unit standards through a mix of internal assessment and external exams.

Chris Hipkins, Minister of Education.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said abolishing NCEA and Scholarship exam fees, as part of the government's Wellbeing Budget, is expected to cost $49 million over four years and to benefit more than 145,000 households.

The government will spend an extra $14.5m operating and $6.4m capital to continue rolling out NCEA Online, he said.

The office of the education minister confirmed the changes were expected to result in students doing more externally marked work such as exams or portfolios - internal assessments were expected to reduce by 30 percent.

"This will reverse the ongoing decline in external assessment, from 46 percent of achievement standard results in 2012, to 31 percent in 2016," a spokesperson said.

"We want to do this for three main reasons: Addressing student and teacher wellbeing, ensuring students are prepared for further education and maintaining NCEA's credibility."

It said "excessive use of internals" could increase teacher workload,

"We expect to see the number of internal assessments per year undertaken by each student reduce by up to 30 percent, without changing the amount of high quality learning occurring."

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said the changes would help reduce high levels of stress and anxiety among secondary school students.

"This constant drive to get more and more and more credits for our secondary school students, they have told us, that that is just adding to their stress levels. So if we can take it away and make it easier for them to achieve and be successful, then let's do that."

NCEA fee cut welcomed

Students at Mana College, where the changes were announced today, were unsure about whether the emphasis on external assessment was good.

The school's head boy, Alex Johnson, said the removal of the NCEA fee would help a lot of families as it was hard for students to ask for handouts so they could get their certificate.

"I do know some mates that have struggled in the past and they had to go to some teachers and ask them to get help. Trying to go to a teacher and ask them for some help financial-wise, it's real difficult."

The school's principal, John Murdoch, agreed abolishing the fee was a good move.

Mr Murdoch said the introduction of a test for literacy and numeracy would not improve standards. He said good teaching was needed and students needed to get a good grounding in the subjects earlier.

Ministry of Education raised the possibility of a separate test several years ago after research found many people who met NCEA requirements failed a test of basic literacy and numeracy.

Michael Williams, principal of Pakuranga College and President of the Secondary Principal's Association of New Zealand, said he's pleased by the changes.

Mr Williams said there was a group of New Zealanders for whom the fees were a barrier.

He said the changes to literacy and numeracy meant the subjects would be co-requisite with NCEA but assessed independently from it.

"There's been a very serious nod here to the workload of teachers, and this will ease that workload," Mr Williams said.

"The challenge will be to make sure we do things properly which will require significant resourcing and expertise.

"But I'm hopeful and positive. It's been a very good step, I think."

Read the full NCEA Change Package 2019 overview

  • NCEA pass rates fall for Year 11, 12, Māori and Pasifika
  • Advice to students with disappointing NCEA results: 'Don't panic'
  • Consultation reveals a lack of confidence in NCEA