thoughts on the proposed changes to NCEA

Many readers will probably have read this RNZ article (or heard the related interview), or seen calls for consultation on the Ministry of Education’s suggested changes to the number of subjects – and achievement standards – on offer to year 11 students.
I’ve been following (& participating, where I can) all this with colleagues and friends, and thought I’d share some of my thoughts here. But before I get onto that, I’ll point out that there’s been a fair bit of consultation even before we got to the point where these materials have gone out, in their turn, for feedback. That process began in 2018 and resulted in a “change package“. This was published in May 2019, and I really recommend reading it carefully as it provides the rationale for the latest 2 rounds of consultation (about the draft L1 Science standards & their supporting material, and about the number of individual subjects that should be offered to year 11 students.
In the interests of full disclosure, I’m a member of the Subject Expert Group (SEG) that is working on the draft L1 Science achievement standards.
So, the SEG members were tasked by the Ministry with developing four Science achievement standards (ASs), but that decision on the number of standards was based on a lot of feedback from a wide range of sector & interest groups, which signalled very clearly a need to reduce the complexity of NCEA & reduce the number of standards¹.
I’ll admit that one of my concerns regarding these two recent consultation rounds is the overlap between requests for feedback about the initial drafts of the Science material, and the announcement of consultation on the number of subjects on offer. I think it’s meant that people have conflated the two.
But – none of this is set in stone; it’s all draft material. Feel strongly about it? Then follow the appropriate links above, and be heard. And – read all the relevant materials before you comment.
One of the things I’ve heard quite often about the Science ASs is that the actual subject material is “hidden”. To some degree this might be due to people reading the headlines, and the ASs, and not also going through the supporting material: the learning matrix (which clearly identifies content) or the Teaching, Learning & Assessment Guide (TLAG for short). But from my perspective, the content material for biology, physics, chemistry, and earth & space science remains the same, and provides an essential context for delivering concepts and competencies relating to the Nature of Science strand in the National Curriculum document (NZC). Hopefully the next round of consultation documents will see the inclusion of some examples of teaching and assessment plans that show what this would look like in practice.
Thus, I think there does need to be an element of trust that teachers will continue to deliver content, & in fact – speaking personally – I would hope there will be a clear statement at some point about the need to cover content. However, I also think it’s important to remember that at the moment there are 31 standards available to schools delivering a year 11 Science program (which is almost all of them) and thus there is no guarantee of consistency now about what content students may or may not have covered.
I’ve heard a lot of concern about the need for professional learning development (PLD) opportunities for teachers. It’s a concern that I know is shared by all of us on the SEG, and it’s one that we’ve communicated to the Ministry. This is a shift in direction; it will entail a significant amount of work by classroom teachers; and there absolutely needs to be a substantial amount of PLD available well before implementation of any confirmed changes to the NCEA. (Not least, for science teachers, because the year 11 changes will probably flow down – to year 9 & 10 classrooms – and may have some impact ‘upwards’ as well.
But – & it’s a very big ‘but’ – I think that it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that the proposed standards are very much aligned to the NZC in placing  the nature of science front & centre (its delivery to date, if present, has been largely implicit).  As I wrote in my previous post,

Back in 2007 New Zealand implemented a new national curriculum. One of the features of the science component of that document is the overarching importance of students gaining an understanding of the nature of science (the “unifying strand” of the curriculum). In that context, it expects that:

students learn what science is and how scientists work. They develop the skills, attitudes, and values to build a foundation for understanding the world. They come to appreciate that while scientific knowledge is durable, it is also constantly re-evaluated in the light of new evidence. They learn how scientists carry out investigations, and they come to see science as a socially valuable knowledge system. They learn how science ideas are communicated and to make links between scientific knowledge and everyday decisions and actions.

And the document specifically adds that these outcomes are pursued through the following major contexts (the various science ‘subjects’) in which scientific knowledge has developed and continues to develop.


Given that currently about 60% of students in year 11 science don’t go on to further study in any of the sciences, I’d argue that while a scientifically-literate society does need some knowledge of science, it also requires a solid understanding of the nature of science itself.



¹ In my personal opinion, the inclusion of additional specific subject standards at year 11 would pretty much destroy the kaupapa of the SEG’s work, in that we would not see students gaining that key, core understanding of NoS. The nature of the 4 ASs currently out there for feedback was not determined randomly, but as the result of a fair bit of thought and discussion by the SEG members.

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