Last week Amy Wiggins highlighted in the New Zealand Herald further test results for the NCEA co-credits to be introduced in 2024. These are three assessments that every student must pass before they can be awarded Level 1, 2 or 3 NCEA or University Entrance.
The article showed results so low that if they truly forecast what will be achieved New Zealand will suddenly have swathes of young people leaving school with no qualifications at all. That figure currently stands at 13%. Over the next three years it could rise to 40 - 50 percent.
In typical mode the Ministry of Education has suggested to NZQA to make the tests easier through fewer questions, simpler wording and allowing spell-checks. This would completely defeat the point of the assessments in the first place.
We are being told to keep in mind that students can sit these tests at anytime between Year 11 – 13. However, many of the students who are likely to fail these tests leave well before Year 13.
Also note that our most marginalized – e.g. Maori male school leavers in South Auckland – are already leaving school with 33% failing Level 1 NCEA.
What to do? Running and hiding is not any option. Blaming the tests will serve no one – least of all the students who would then see a huge reduction in their future prospects. Every high-school, with or without effective Ministry support (if there is such a thing) needs to set up comprehensive programmes in this area to see the VAST majority of their students through. No excuses.
Of secondary, but significant concern, the tests should not be in an online format which is a poor means of testing reading and mathematics - and doubtful on writing. It disadvantages a wide range of students, and schools should insist on paper testing.
Over the longer term there are two key societal changes required to lift all levels of student achievement. The first is a huge focus on effective parenting - especially during the first five years of life. This includes keeping parents engaged in their children's learning and fully informed of progress and processes. When I asked the exceptional former Principal of fast-rising St Paul’s in Ponsonby, Kieran Fouhey, what has brought about the change, his first point was to “enroll the family”. If you can convince parents that the success of their child depends 100% on them (regardless of socio-economics), convince teachers that their students' success depends 100% on them and convince young people that their success depends 100% on their commitment and effort – then you have a winning formula.
National’s Teaching the Basics Brilliantly is a policy step in the right direction. What has been somewhat amusing is the naysayers, e.g. Education Minister Jan Tinetti, effectively asserting that an hour a day of reading, writing and maths would be boring. It shows a real lack of imagination and creativity around how those subjects can be taught and learned. In saying that though, National needs to fully understand that the policy will only succeed, beyond the margins, if they can carry the vast majority of families with it.
Families are the hub of our society, learning and behaviour and need to be recognised as such.