NCEA subjects overhaul
Well, almost an overhaul. The recommendations in the reports and communiqués do suggest a large change, but they’re really just a bunch of recommendations-in-advance for the 2007–2009 review cycle. One overall recommendation, though, rightfully attracted some media attention:
That consideration be given to all external achievement standards being also being available as internal achievement standards so that schools have a choice of assessing internally or externally.
Uh-oh. The concerned educator’s worst nightmare—the removal of exams—could be on its way to reality. As it happened, a 1998 Cabinet paper explicitly promised that at least fifty per cent of all academic subjects would be externally assessed in exams. Ah well. Shit happens. The other cross-subject recommendations are more or less recognition of practical concerns that have been there for ages anyway. Ever wondered if the NCEA could be saved? Keep watching—I have a feeling it might be (in the next few years) about to happen.
I read through a few of the communiqués (the ones I care about), and while some seem to be headed for large changes, others seem to be quite happy. A couple of the recommendations disturb me a bit, but on the whole, these documents are proof for me that NCEA is now back on the right track. I knew it had to turn around some day. All that remains now is, after carrying out the overhaul of subjects, to either mandate or persuade schools to offer the correct courses.
At long last, they are recommending less standards in the subject. It took five years to realise that nine standards at level 1 and eight at level 2 are too many, but they got there in the end, didn’t they? Once the 2007–2009 reviews take place, each of the exams will have three standards, one of which will be a merged extended text and short text paper. In fact, much of the English communiqué seems, in my mind anyway, to be reasonable recommendations to repair an overloaded English course.
The good news is that, like English, they’re seeking to reduce the number of standards in levels 1 and 2; though here, by a complete overhaul to an over-fragmented matrix rather than a couple of mergers. The bad news is that they are, once again, looking to dumb down mathematics by removing content. The standard of mathematics in this country is low enough as it is! It is a well-known fact that overseas syllabi far surpass ours: and now, they seek to remove conic sections from the syllabus altogether, and remove areas under curves and logarithms from level 2—to name a few. The mathematics curriculum survived fine in the days of School Certificate and Bursary; why does it need to suffer now? Shouldn’t the reduction in number of standards be enough to reduce workload? The other brighter side is that they hope to introduce multiple opportunities for excellence. About time.
The matrix overhaul of technology is a particularly interesting one in that it is, arguably, still a developing subject. Having realised the amount of project work, they’ve suggested an increase in both the project standards at levels 2 and 3 to ten credits (bad news for us because we just missed out), from six and eight respectively. If you ask me, I say six credits each at level 2 was enough, and the project for level 3 should really be twelve credits (it’s that big). The problem with ten is that it undermines the original idea of 24-credit subjects: with the ten credit standard, it becomes impossible (or very difficult) to come up with a 24-credit course. I’m still stumped over why they would remove area-specific projects (I like talking about how I take “electronics technology” rather than just “technology”).
Chemistry and Physics
Nothing particularly exciting in these communiqués. Chemistry 3.1 might get more credits (sure as hell deserves more credits, though at our school we only get two credits’ worth of time to do the four-credit standard anyway). Concerns about overlap in Chemistry 2.1 and 2.2. The physics one radiated a largely “things are fine as they are” glow to it, or at least, there was no consensus for change, except that Physics 2.1 is too mechanical for lead-in to 3.1. Perhaps these matrices were two of the better-designed ones.
Apart from the drumming use of the word “update”, the only major change is an introduction of an internal listening standard. I don’t like internals, so I’m glad I missed that, though the rationale of needing a more interactive focus to listening seems sensible.
I don’t take music, but I find it very interesting that, after a (rather unsuccessful) splitting of the subject of music into theory and practical at level 3, they are now planning to extend the split to all levels, so that music theory and music practical are distinct subjects at levels 1 and 2 as well. The initiative to provide a better scaffolding seems like a good idea though.