The New Zealand Curriculum and Assessment

New Zealand Curriculum and Assessment

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One of the best workshops I attended at Ulearn during the holidays was not even directly related to technology. It was a presentation from Rose Hipkins from the NZCER, on the New Zealand Curriculum and assessment. I have been wanting to touch on a few of the issues it raises for soemtime, so here goes…

I have embedded Rose’s PPt above, which she kindly gave me permission to do. Have a good look through it as it is very good and is a nice sequel to Rachel Bolstad’s presentation in an earlier post.

The main thrust of Rose’s talk centred on how we provide coherence in curriculum design and the implications for how we assess. Much of the focus was on the key competencies which Rose sees as integral to providing the links betwen the front and back end of the curriculum. The back end of the curriculum is nothing more than a condensed version of the pervious curriculum, with AO’s relating to the different learning areas. It is the part of the curriculum that most teachers are familiar with. The front end is a totally different beast and it is here that we see the possiblity for transforming schools (especially secondary). Rose suggested that the key competencies “might be the glue” that ties these two together.

One of Rose’s major questions was one that many educators are asking – Should we assess the key competencies? In short the answer was no, but the outcomes of these comptencies might be assessed. I am in toal agreement with this – it makes little sense to try and assess the competencies themselves. Many will probably want to, but we already have too much of a focus on assessment without adding to it further. And it would be extremely difficult to asses them anyway. How do you quantifiably assess “participation” for example?

Earlier in the presentation Rose talked about how a holistic approach was need to curriculum design and that a coherent curriculum was vital. I was interested in her ideas about how this coherence might be achieved (check slide 7). At the top of the list of possibilities was ICT and how ICTs could be used to foreground an aspect of learning and/or knowledge construction, not just for information retrieval. Another that I had already considered was the use of future focussed themes, such as citizenship or sustainability. To me if you are going to build a coherent curriculum then you need to pull the learning areas together. You need to contextualise learning for the students and build this context across subjects. I am a big fan of thematic learning and I hope that more secondary schools start looking it as a way of building a relevant curriculum.

Slide 17 was an interesting one for me. It was a snapshot of the results of the NZCER’s recent engagement survey. An article featured in the Press recently commented on the same thing. What it shows is that the majority of year 9 and 10s admit to often being bored in class. This is a worrying statistic, though it doesn’t surprise me in the least. This is one of the big reasons schools need to change. If a student isn’t engaged they will find it difficult to learn. And engagement doesn’t mean they have to be entertained. Engagement is about being sucked into learning, it’s about relevance and its also about challenge. Schools need to develop a curriculum which is relevant to students and to what learning means in the 21st century – not sitting them down in rows, facing the front, and ramming content down their throats. Fortuntately many schools have already begun making this change.

Now where does assessment and NCEA sit with all this? Well first, we need to start including students in the assessment process far more. Get them assessing themselves and each other. In fact, if a student is going to become self-managing they need to be able to evaluate their own progress. I know many teachers and schools use self assessment in their programmes, but how much of it is actually meaningful? Is it a quick check-list or it a tied into their learning on an ongoing basis?

Secondly, despite much of the media and some teachers views, NCEA is not the root of all evil in secondary schools today. In fact NCEA provides enormous flexibity in assessment. Teachers are no longer tied by traditional programmes, and can provide flexible pathways for students. Unfortunately many schools haven’t grasped this opportunity, but the NZC means that it will be difficult for schools to avoid it.

NCEA shouldn’t be about rigidity, it should be about flexibiltiy. Sure, many of the standards will need to change, but that is all part of the alignment process which is going on at the moment.

As I have said before, these are exciting times, but it is up to schools to grasp the opportunity…



  1. Great stuff thanks for sharing this Darren. I am at the moment looking how to link ICT, effective Pedagogy and the Key Competencies. Been speaking to Derek Wenmoth about this. I may need to see if Rose Hipkins is available to do a workshop at our TOD in March 2009.

  2. Thanks Conor. I do recomment Rose – interesting speaker.

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