This report documents findings from 2003 - the second year of a three-year research project. NZCER is investigating changes in senior secondary school subjects, and the factors that influenced students’ subject choices, as New Zealand’s National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) reforms are being progressively implemented.
The report builds on the findings of the first year:
Learning curves: Meeting student needs in an evolving qualifications regime: From cabbages to kings: A first report
The NCEA reforms have introduced standards-based assessment-for-qualifications in place of the previous norm-referenced national examinations. Two types of assessment instruments, achievement standards and unit standards, are being used.
Differing versions of three core curriculum subjects (English, mathematics, science) being offered in the six Learning Curves schools are analysed and three types of courses identified. Most students were taking we have called "traditional-discipline" courses. "Locally-redesigned" courses are more innovative and "contextually-focused" courses have replaced what used to be called "applied" courses. Versions of these types of courses in other curriculum areas are also identified. More subject innovation was found in the arts and technology curriculum areas.
Locally-redesigned and contextually-focused courses open up the potential to create courses with new combinations of knowledge and skills that more closely match those identified in "knowledge society" discussions about what will be needed for the future. Teachers say students taking contextually-focused courses are experiencing more learning success than they might have in traditional examinations.
There is a perception that credits gained from achievement standards have more value that those gained from unit standards. This perception appears to be inhibiting a greater level of innovation by restricting the flexible use of unit standards. Unless it is addressed, there is risk that curriculum innovation through the development of new locally-redesigned and contextually-focused courses will be curtailed.
The students chose subjects they expected to enjoy. They linked enjoyment to expectations that the subject would be challenging, interesting, and where relevant, practical. Students were much less likely to say they chose subjects expecting that they would be easy, or give them "easy NCEA credits".
Teacher workloads remained very high in 2003 but were more manageable when schools set aside a time for professional discussion and course development work within the normal school week. A range of factors contributed to higher workloads in the NCEA. These included developing professional knowledge of standards-based assessment, designing and moderating new assessment tasks, developing a shared professional consensus about judgements of student work, redesigning courses, implementing new administration systems, and contributing to the NCEA implementation at regional and national levels.
The researchers are working with six medium sized secondary schools, three in urban areas and three in rural towns. In 2003 both Year 11 and 12 students were surveyed. Principals and HODs of English, mathematics, technology, arts and science curriculum areas were interviewed, as were year 11 and 12 deans.