Coast schools differ on assessment options

Whangaparāoa College announced in June that it would be reintroducing NCEA Level 1 assessments next year. Meanwhile, KingsWay College, in Red Beach, is doing exactly the opposite, announcing on July 19 that it would replace Level 1 with its own qualification.

Level 1 is usually sat by students in Year 11, aged around 15.

Whangaparāoa College dropped Level 1 in 2021, and Principal Steve McCracken says Covid-19 was a factor in that decision.

Another factor was the amount of assessment was seen as too high, leading to the potential for teachers to teach to those assessments, rather than the curriculum.

McCracken says while the college’s NCEA results have stayed consistent – before and after Level 1 was dropped – he thinks the school is still under-performing academically.

He says the plan to bring back Level 1 has come about because the school community is demanding more academic rigour and a more streamlined process.

“They want to know where their kids are at in terms of assessment,” he says. 

McCracken says recent reforms around NCEA also make it the right time to bring back Level 1. 

“It will meet the needs of our community and ensure students are well prepared for Level 2,” he says. “Level 2 is a big step up, and some students felt they didn’t get enough preparation – something Level 1 will provide.”

He says feedback so far from teachers about the change has been “quiet”, and he has had no feedback from parents.

KingsWay College has been making changes too. It currently offers Level 1, but last month, announced its decision to replace it.

Executive principal Graeme Budler, says the school plans to offer its own qualification instead, which it believes will better prepare students for Level 2 and 3.

He says there is too much uncertainty related to how the new NCEA Level 1 in its current form will equip students for Level 2. 

“None of our students leave school with only an NCEA Level 1 certificate, so we hope to use Year 11 to continue to better prepare them with the knowledge, skills and key competencies that have consistently led to excellent Level 2 and 3 results,” Budler says.

Ōrewa College currently offers NCEA Level 1 as an option for its students – it is not compulsory.

Principal Greg Pierce is also president of the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals’ Association. He says schools are managing a total NZ curriculum refresh as well as changes to all three NCEA levels and new literacy/ numeracy co-requisites. 

“Through all these changes, schools are doing what they deem best for their students, and communities,” he says. 

This has led to a range of approaches among schools, from doing a full time NCEA Level 1 course at Year 11, a part time NCEA course at Year 11, a completely independent programme specific to that school, or a two-year Level 2 course starting at the start of Year 11. 

“Reasons for these different approaches take into account the academic, literacy and numeracy levels of students and supporting staff and student outcomes, as well as positive engagement in learning which may reduce due to ongoing pressures of assessment.”

“In my opinion there is too much emphasis on the actual Level 1 qualification, which in itself does not create a wide range of career options for students.” Pierce says. “Aligned with this is the fact that once a student attains NCEA Level 2, that automatically becomes the superior qualification. The vast majority of school leavers attain this.”

He says while Ōrewa College continues to offer students the opportunity to complete NCEA Level 1, it will also offer various semester or half-year courses that students and their parents/caregivers can choose from and these will offer different amounts of assessment. “Therefore if the choice is made to not take the full NCEA course in Year 11, the college will respect that.”

Note: Wentworth College follows the Cambridge International curriculum and its Year 11 students sit IGCSE examinations, followed by their Cambridge AS and A2 Levels in Year 12 and 13.