It was the night before results – an NCEA story

It was the night before Christmas NCEA results and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse Level 1 boy…

NCEA results come out tomorrow. After the mix up last year with results being released early, students have been locked out of the site since the 9th of January. This is my first year as an anxious mother. I’m not sure whether my son is so concerned. He has a good sense of how his year has gone in light of his internal assessment grades, felt confident with some papers he sat in the externals and has a realistic idea of how (badly) some of the other papers went.

Counting down for NCEA results

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is New Zealand’s secondary school qualification. It is a mix of internal and externally assessed standards. NCEA is a high stakes qualification.  Doing well in NCEA is important for students.  The NCEA achievement determines entry to the next year of schooling and/or entrance to university.  Prospective employers also consider students’ achievement in the NCEA qualification, with Level 2 NCEA regarded as a baseline qualification for employment (NZQA, 2013).

Therefore, it is a nerve wracking evening around many homes in NZ tonight. What I do like about the NCEA is that students learning and understanding is acknowledged – it isn’t what they cannot do or do not know, rather it celebrates the diversity of students’ interests, passions and areas of expertise. I love that my son, who is passionate about art and design, can have an equal acknowledgement of his achievements alongside his friends who are into environmental science and history.

The thing that is really important is what happens next – results come, there are feelings of excitement and trepidation (hopefully there will be lots of excitement around my house), then it is on to the mad shuffle at schools. If students haven’t met the standards at the levels they were expecting/predicted to achieve, their proposed timetable is affected. I dreaded the first day that seniors were back at school; desperate students came begging in order to be allowed to stay in their proposed course, teachers were cajoled to accept students who had not chosen the subject, in my case Classical Studies, but ‘had nowhere else to go’ (these students were often accompanied with a note from the year level dean) and dealing with students who wanted you to look over their papers to see if they should send them back for a reconsideration – either they were close to meeting the standard, just short of university entrance or a few credits short of a Merit or Excellence endorsement. Moving to a new school means that I won’t have to deal with that for some time.

For us here tonight, it is all about Mathematics. It is strange to think that Level 1 Mathematics results will have an impact on my son’s future. He just said – “I’m 800% sure that I’m going to have to take Level 1 Mathematics again”.  But that is ok. NCEA works as a multi-level assessment system. If he needs to repeat one subject, it is not a problem to do so. His ability to progress in the subjects where he has performed well (Art Design, English, Graphics etc.) is not hindered because he was not at the level required.

One of my hopes for the future will be students know where they are at before, during and after assessment. How? By inducting them into the ‘guild of assessors’ (Sadler, 1989).  Using exemplars, discussing and unpacking what quality work looks like against the criteria, and providing opportunities for students to assess each other. Whether exams are the appropriate mode for students’ understanding to be measured is still up for debate. Is it an accurate measurement of student understanding under test conditions, often months after they completed the relevant learning, without access to resources… A debate I’m not quite ready for today.

Fingers crossed for tomorrow.


New Zealand Qualifications Authority. (2013). Using NCEA after leaving school  Retrieved 04.06.13, from

Sadler, D. R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18(2), 119-144.


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