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.


Brainy brains and emotional experiences

The third week of my journey covers reflection, brain exploration and taking values into practice.

At the end of last week I shared my story with the staff about my learning journey and values which have shaped my life.  I spent a lot of time thinking about my life, the learning experiences, challenges I faced and how I overcame them. This level of reflection wasn’t part of my usual daily routine and I found the process to be very emotional. So many aspects of the vision of Hobsonville Point resonate with me as my life would have turned out quite differently had I not been in a school were there was sufficient flexibility to allow me to take a slightly different route and personalise my learning. I found sharing my story to be very difficult – there were lots of tears (from me and others) but I kept coming back to why I believe that learning needs to be personalised – if Kavanagh hadn’t been so open, I would have left school with my highest qualification as 4 subjects School C. Now, I have just finished my masters and am in line for first class honours. I love hearing the stories of everyone at Hobsonville. There are moments of connectedness, shared experiences (especially when looking at old photos) and the sense that we are coming together as a team. I look forward to more stories today and tomorrow.

So, after that cathartic experience, we spent the beginning of the week with Julia Atken looking at learning preferences and the brain. We had all completed a Herrmann’s Brain diagnostic test earlier in the term and Julia took us through our results and the implications of our results.  This was a really interesting process. As a team we had to select dispositions or qualities from a set of cards which most reflected ourselves. Julia put limitations on these so that we had to make a choice of three cards, with the option of one which did not reflect us at all. I felt that I wanted to pick a card which reflected  an emotional way of thinking but instead chose my three descriptors as ‘flexible’, ‘challenging’ and ‘planner’ – my non-me card was ‘quantitative’. I was quite pleased with my choices but not at all surprised to see that my Herrmann’s brain diagnosis placed me as mainly holistic/ emotional in my thinking/learning preferences, followed by a practical approach with rational thinking as my least preferred mode.  This correlates to my Myers-Briggs personality profile – ENFP.  I think big picture with an emotional slant – innovation, imagining, risk-taking balanced out with structured, logical and conservative approaches – kind of like my three words.  It was great to compare and contrast our diagrams with the team – as a group we have common traits but there is diversity. I really loved the openness with which everyone shared their diagrams, their interpretations of them and the acknowledgement of our shared differences.

photo (2)

I see real potential in how we use this information about our thinking preferences – both in terms of leading learning (for students and staff) but also in how we work closely alongside students to personalise learning. Personalisation does not have to be about making student’s passions the focus of their learning but instead could be about knowing preferences and challenging learners to develop their least preferred option. I also love that it doesn’t label someone as ‘being’ blue or yellow or red… or whatever. Instead, it acknowledges preferences. The diagnosis also covers how you are likely to think when under pressure – no surprises for me that my rational and practical ways of thinking take a backseat to a more emotional response. However, the only thing which proved to be a surprise was that I was more likely to be an experimental thinker under pressure – future focused. This would come as no surprise to my poor husband who sees me as the eternal optimist, particularly when under duress.

Tuesday and Wednesday has had the Leaders of Learning working on developing the ‘Hobsonville Habits’. These are the practices and principles which will underpin everything that we do. This has been a great academic exercise where we developed ‘I’ statements about what those habits may look like – e.g. ‘I stay firm to my resolve’ as a habit which underpins resilience. I have really enjoyed the robust discussion around these – not only as I love discussion and dialogue – but we are hopefully more mindful of the thinking preferences approaches we as a LOL team possess.  I love that we have time to debate and discuss the semantics of these (I am passionate about language and the power of words) but that this is balanced by the fact that we have time, a luxurious resource which most educators are not afforded. I love that we can say ‘throw all of those ideas down, we can look at them again later’ instead of having the pressure to produce something, something quite profound, and do so quickly.

My learnings from this week:

  • Good things take time
  • It takes all kinds of people to achieve, I did know this but the brain diagnosis confirmed the importance of diversity (especially in thinking!)
  • Honesty and openness allow for individual’s values, beliefs and ways of doing things to be explored