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Result Notice redesign deletes everything useful

What a change is here!  No more grade averages, no more result bars, failures reported, less paper used and an all-round new, fresh look.  Am I pleased?  No, most certainly not.  The result notice redesign spells a backwards step in the development of NCEA—well, perhaps not that backwards, but in the opposite direction to what I hoped, and was so adamant that, NCEA would take.

Apparently, “in response to feedback, the grade average will not be recorded” (ref).  I wrote in making it very clear that some form of grade averaging had to be retained, but evidently 150 others did not.  The result is that they have now removed the last aggregate measure of performance in a subject.  Subjects have truly died.  There is a wealth of information about strengths within a subject, but why must detail come only at the sacrifice of the big picture?  Okay, so the grade average was blatantly flawed—I must admit, I was one of its harshest critics.  But to remove any aggregate measure is not the solution, and at the end of the day, some flawed grade average is better than none at all.  It is this sort of move that makes NCEA results meaningless.  Details are great, but not without big picture.

Their removal of the result bars—the bars that showed the proportion of candidates who achieved with merit and excellence—is one of the most bureaucratic moves I have ever seen.  The survey conducted by NZQA didn’t even mention this—as if they hoped they could quietly remove it and no-one would notice they never asked (though they did show samples that made it clear).  Well, they succeeded, I guess, or they bluntly ignored anyone (like me) who spoke out against such a change.  Didn’t it make you feel good to know that not that many people excellenced that standard you botched up anyway?  It was useful information (and would have been more useful if it included failures), and there was no need, nor rationale given, for its removal.  Shocking.

On the bright side, we save trees, but there are surely ways to save trees without losing that great deal of information.  (The old design did waste a lot of paper.)  At last, failure will be reported in the result notice (finally!).  And they did manage to realise that removing whether or not standards were internally or externally assessed was a bad idea, and fixed that for the final redesign.  At least they retained one thing.

But NZQA’s new design effectively deletes everything that was interesting to look at in the result notice.  There will be no way to express in one figure how well we did in a subject, just a collection of results that contribute to nothing bigger.  I suppose subjects are an endangered species anyway (with what some schools are doing).  And we don’t even get to know how many people found which exams hard!

With that, NCEA has taken a step towards the extreme of standards-based assessment, known to be impractical for academic subjects.  New Zealand does not need to pick between the 2002 NCEA model and traditional exams: a middle ground can be found, and a fertile one.  The change to NCEA was, in principle, a good one, but now steps back to the middle need to be taken.  In that sense, this step doesn’t help NCEA develop at all, and could well take us back to the days of 2002, when the system really was hopeless.  Wake up, NZQA.  Provide us with the information we deserve for our efforts.

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I intended to write this blog about a month ago, but things got in the way. So there it is, a month later.

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