Annual Report 2014/15

Impact 3: Higher-quality of assessment practices in New Zealand’s senior secondary schools

NCEA provides secondary students with access to a flexible assessment system that supports students’ future success. NCEA is a high quality and flexible qualification, providing a pathway to tertiary education, workplace training and employment. NZQA administers NCEA for senior secondary students and ensures that schools follow robust and rigorous assessment processes through oversight of schools’ internal assessment, and management of external NCEA examinations and New Zealand Scholarship.

Internal assessment

NZQA’s role in supporting internal assessment includes provision of quality assurance requirements to schools, reviews of assessment processes, and external moderation of schools’ internal assessment.

Reviewing internal assessment practices

NZQA works in partnership with schools to manage assessment for national qualifications. NZQA performs this role through Managing National Assessment (MNA) reviews. In a MNA review NZQA undertakes a formal review of the assessment practices of schools, reporting on the strengths and weaknesses of practices and documenting issues the school must address in order to ensure the ongoing quality of assessment practice.

NZQA’s confidence in a school’s assessment practice is reflected in the length of the review cycle. NZQA expects the majority of schools to be on a review cycle of three or four years. As at 30 June 2015, 84.3% of schools are on a three or four year cycle. NZQA’s role in working with schools on continuous improvement initiatives is aimed at ensuring this percentage does not decline below the forecast 75–85% while the integrity of its review process and determination of findings is maintained.

As at 30 June 2015 the MNA review cycle for schools is as follows:


NZQA identifies areas of improvement for schools on a one or two year review cycle, and provides support to these schools so that their assessment practice lifts to match the good practice followed by the majority of schools.

Targeted visits to schools are carried out between review cycles to focus on areas where performance can be improved.

External moderation of schools’ internal assessment

During 2014/2015, NZQA externally moderated over 100,000 samples of student work from secondary schools to provide an assurance that assessment decisions in relation to assessment standards are consistent, and meet the national standard. Within this, a random sample of student work is moderated to provide the national moderator to teacher agreement rate.

External expert advice received is that 85% is an excellent agreement rate. For the 2014 academic year the moderator to teacher agreement rate was 91.9% at the level of credit, up from 88% in 2013. The agreement rate was 82.8% at the level of grade up from 75.9% in 201317. These agreement rates indicate that high-quality assessment practice is occurring in New Zealand’s senior secondary schools.

Supporting best practice

In 2014/2015, NZQA continued to provide workshops to teachers to enhance their assessment practice. NZQA provided 140 ‘Best Practice Workshops’ to increase teacher confidence when making judgements for internally assessed standards; provide information on modifying existing assessment resources to better meet the needs of students; and support teachers in collecting assessment evidence to better meet the needs of students.

NZQA has been conducting pilots to deliver the workshops in an online environment. These will give teachers in remote locations access to online discussions and materials designed to improve teacher assessment judgements and confidence.

NZQA has revised level one and two annotated examples of student work that better illustrate the grade boundaries for all internally assessed standards. These exemplars are designed with teachers in mind to assist them in improving their assessment practice.

A culturally appropriate quality assurance model for externally moderating Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (Māori-medium Curriculum) standards has been developed and is now operational. The standards are moderated at a kāhui (panel meeting) that consists of teachers with significant Māori-medium assessment experience. This provides greater confidence in teachers’ assessment practice as Te Marautanga o Aotearoa is implemented in schools.

External Assessment

NZQA provides rigorous external examinations. Our role in external assessment is a major part of NZQA’s work programme in any given year.

In 2014, more than 143,000 students attempted a combination of 284 achievement standards and 35 New Zealand Scholarship performance standards, with just over 1.3 million entries for these externally assessed standards. That is more than a million individual booklets, personalised so that each candidate received an examination paper for the subject standards they entered.

Robust systems underpin NZQA’s high quality external examinations.

A team of 400 subject specialists develop the examination materials. A minimum of four subject matter experts work to develop the examination papers for each examination. These are checked by at least two NZQA National Assessment Facilitators, three NZQA Editors and the subject specialists to ensure that the examination booklets are error-free. Among the examination material developed for the 2014 academic year were 53 standards translated into Te Reo Māori, 20 Braille papers created for 20 standards, and various CDs and DVDs.

NZQA administered over 400 examination centres in New Zealand, Niue and the Cook Islands and held over 124 examination sessions between 7 November 2014 and 2 December 2014.

1,800 markers marked approximately 1.3 million examination papers, portfolios, written reports and recorded performances. To ensure that marking is to high quality, markers are usually school teachers with strong subject matter knowledge and assessment experience. NZQA further supports the quality and credibility of external examinations through the assistance of National Assessment Facilitators, who check the marking is running smoothly and to standard. NZQA also has systems in place to ensure students’ work is not marked by teachers from their own school.

All results are submitted electronically to be processed and quality assured by NZQA’s Data Analysis team before they are released online to students.

Special Assessment Conditions

NZQA continued to improve the Special Assessment Conditions (SAC) application process, particularly for low decile schools. SAC provide extra help for students with sensory, physical, medical and/or learning difficulties that might be able to be overcome or reduced considerably with appropriate assistance. The provision of SAC removes barriers so that students have a fair opportunity to achieve.

NZQA worked with Ministry of Education funded Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) cluster managers, who assisted schools to identify students who may be entitled to Special Assessment Conditions. Provisional figures show an increase in the number of SAC applicants approved from deciles 1–3 schools for assessment (from 173 in 2014 to 343 in 2015). Improving uptake of the SAC provision in lower decile schools remains a priority and a focus of ongoing actions.

NZQA also:

  • Launched a new online facility for SAC applications in late 2014 that streamlined the process and standardised the data and commentary required from schools which has led to an increase in overall applications. The new online facility helped build a comparable picture of student needs and enabled more consistent decision-making by the NZQA SAC panels.
  • Increased its engagement with the sector by providing more workshops across the country for teachers-in-charge of Learning Support. The workshops support these teachers by focusing on school-based evidence applications and low-decile schools.

Accelerating NCEA achievement for Māori and Pasifika

Our work includes initiatives specifically aimed at accelerating the educational achievement of Māori and Pasifika. Two key initiatives are the workshop based programmes, NCEA and the Whānau and NCEA ma le Pasifika. These programmes provide information about NCEA to parents and whānau. They promote the need to choose those subjects and standards that are aligned with students career interests. In 2014/15 NZQA delivered 81 NCEA and the Whānau workshops, which were attended by 1,539 Whānau (2,166 Whānau members) and 48 NCEA ma le Pasifika workshops which were attended by 1,371 individuals from Pasifika families and communities.

Independent Review of the Effectiveness of NZQA’s Implementation of the 2007 NCEA Enhancements

In 2014, NZQA sought an independent review of the effectiveness of enhancements made to NCEA by NZQA since 2007. A panel, comprising of academics and practitioners, reviewed a range of enhancements that supported teachers’ assessment practices; improved student motivation; and provided clarity of information on NCEA.

The panel commended NZQA for its implementation of the 2007 enhancements and for taking a dynamic approach to the implementation of NCEA. The panel’s findings included there being a high level of confidence in NCEA as a credible qualification and that the 2007 enhancements were supported in principle and in the way they had been implemented by NZQA. It was clear that people are more confident in the qualification, more trusting about the moderation processes, and appreciative of the increase in transparency.

The panel endorsed a finding of a 2012 review by the Office of the Auditor General that “NZQA is continually enhancing its processes and practices, which is helping schools to better carry out internal assessment”.

The panel made recommendations to NZQA in a number of areas such as lifting the general understanding and awareness of NCEA and strengthening professional support for the sector. NZQA is committed to implementing the report’s recommendations and continuing to work with the sector on future developments designed to enhance confidence in the NCEA.

The full report of the panel can be found on the NZQA website18.

NZQA’s future focus

The delivery of our core services to build higher-quality assessment practices in senior secondary schools will continue. Goals for the next year include:

  • ongoing Managing National Assessment (MNA) reviews and targeted visits to schools that monitor schools’ progress between MNA reviews to improve quality assessment practice in schools
  • delivery of Best Practice Workshops, as needed, to support teachers in their assessment practice
  • a strengthened application process for schools to gain their initial Consent to Assess so that schools have stronger systems in place for their assessment practice
  • investigating suitable options for online moderation and trialling online external assessment to help inform NZQA’s strategic direction of assessment to anyone, anywhere, anytime, online and on demand
  • improving access to Special Assessment Conditions for all students, and in particular low decile students
  • by the end of 2016, all NZQA external moderation of internal assessments will be able to be completed online.

Future State programme initiatives

Globalisation and digital technology are changing the expectations of learners, employers, iwi and industry. This provides an opportunity for NZQA to change the way it delivers its services to clients. A more user-centric approach will be required when working with the education community (learners, teachers, schools and education-related groups) to co-create solutions.

Teaching and learning are becoming more personalised to each learner. Technology provides an opportunity for assessment to be integrated into the learning process, with a focus on problem solving and applying new knowledge to real world situations. Through 2014/15 NZQA has been trialling digital assessment to ensure that NZQA’s assessment practices meet the changing needs of learners:

  • NCEA Level 1 Mathematics assessment via the Electronic Mathematics Common Assessment Task (eMCAT). There were 27 schools and 2,470 students that took part in 2014 and approximately 146 schools and 13,000 students will take part in 2015. 2015 results will count towards NCEA Level 1.
  • Special Assessment Conditions via some online computer-based examinations including text to speech software, variable font size and a dyslexic-friendly font

In 2014/15, NZQA and N4L have been exploring how we can utilise the Pond platform to streamline moderation services for teachers.

 16. This excludes seven new schools, eight schools for which a review date is still to be set, seven schools not providing NCEA, and eight schools in the Pacific.

17. A moderator’s assessment and a teacher’s assessment agreeing that a student has achieved the internally assessed standard is agreement at the level of credit. A moderator’s grade of the student’s work agreeing with the teacher’s grade is agreement at the level of grade.

18. The report can be found at

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