Labour right to repeal National Standards and review N.C.E.A.

The National Standards were introduced by Minister for Education, Anne Tolley during her tenure in office. They were intended to be a reference point that parents of primary school students could use as a marker of how their child was going.

I think it is fundamentally wrong that we need to grade our primary school students somehow. This is what National Standards will seek to do. The reason for this opposition stems from:

  • It puts in a students mind if they do not achieve a good grade that they are somehow not as good, from an early age that they are somehow failures – the early years of ones education should not be about performance alone
  • It also fails to acknowledge these are the years in which key outcomes in a child’s performance are starting to be unravelled, which point to a more serious problem than the education system is simply failing.

At primary school age, it is as much about learning to get on with other children from different backgrounds, to learn the basics – the bare essentials in terms of reading, writing, counting and so forth. At this age is is probably not appropriate to talk to students directly about the nature of their education – too young to know (something that happens with time), much less care (something that can only happen if the available information is interpreted recently.

Principals have been complaining about Naional Standards from the start. The idea might have been good on paper and look good at a first glance. Except that it was not. They were concerned that this was another attempt at attacking the school system with  a sort of corporate system where defined and previously adhered to rules would be dumped in favour of ones that did not encourage freedom of thought.

So, it was with pleasure I heard that N.S. are going to go and N.C.E.A. is up for review.

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement is somewhat different in terms of purpose. This is a national grading criteria for determining whether or not high school students are progressing properly or not.

Of N.C.E.A. I will be honest from the outset. I am a critic for several reasons. I seriously hope though that it has changed substantially since I played with it in 1996-1999, at Burnside High. If not, the following comments are worth noting. My own personal experience of the old system it replaced was that it had numerous redeeming features that were lost when N.C.E.A. started. One of those features was students having an idea of how they performed – did they get an outstanding pass, a bare minimal pass or were they a catastrophic failure. With the N.C.E.A. concept one simply passed or failed initially. I found that quite off putting as I wanted – and still want to – know how much I passed/failed by. I also found that there were some subjects where it was probably suited to the nature of the subject – mainly the traditional ones such as history, geography, English, science, mathematics. There were others such as Tourism which it could have worked on.

My own grades had little to do with whether the system worked or not and more to do with the fact that I tended to be a minimalist in terms of study. I did all the class work, and nearly all the homework, but when it came to studying for exams and tests, I tended to zone out, and despite what was said above, my marks reflected the zoning out more than they reflected a bung system. I do not think one can blame the system for that.

My own assessment is that no, N.C.E.A. does not work. However, I do not totally support winding back the clock to when Unit Standards first started being rolled out. If the Unit Standards can give some sort of success measure, perhaps by providing ___ credits per course, of which ___ must be attained to pass the course, then perhaps it could continue on courses such as tourism.

If I were revisiting the assessment regime for High School students I would be looking at requiring standardized external exams for all, but each would have an internally assessed component devised by the school and submitted to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority for approval. These would be common courses such as the ones I have already described. Another change that I would make would be to significantly improve scholarship opportunities. A B-Grade Scholarship might for example pay half of the fees for a student, whilst an A-Grade scholarship would pay all the course fees.

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