NCEA is the National Certificate of Educational Achievement. It is the main qualification at all levels of senior secondary school – Years 11, 12 and 13. NCEA was introduced gradually from 2002 to replace School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate and Higher School Certificate and University Entrance in NZ and was in full place within schools by 2004.

NCEA removes the distinctions between academic and practical education and allows students to achieve in a wide range of courses and subjects. In the past students tended to pursue either an academic path of education or lean towards a more practical skill based path that would better prepare them for the workplace. The change to NCEA has meant there no longer needs to be a differentiation between the two and a wider range of assessments can count towards the NCEA.

NCEA has also given schools the freedom to offer programmes that better meet the needs of all students and their tertiary and workplace paths. New courses have been created and introduced, links have been established with tertiary providers and there are more work-related programmes being offered.

Creating programmes that best meet student need is a bit like planning an itinerary for a holiday. What do I want to get out of the experience? Where do I want to visit along the way? How will I get there and where will I stay?

NCEA allows programmes to be put together by schools in the same manner.

For example, creating a new English course for Year 13 students may take this shape,

“What do we want our students to get out of this new programme?”

We want our Year 13 students who do not choose to take Level Three English to gain their University Entrance Literacy credits.

“What do they need to do along the way?”

They need to gain a minimum of 8 credits in reading and writing standards.

“Would it be more efficient to run a two term course or a full year course?”

“Which Standards would fit the bill?”

“Which Standards are the more beneficial?”

“Here are the ones we will offer.”

And so a school is able to work with a programme that better suits their students. In this way NCEA is a much more inclusive way to assess all students.

NCEA assesses students using both internal and external assessment. Internal assessment is the process by which the school awards grades to the student and external assessment is when an external marker, someone outside of the school, awards grades. External assessment includes examinations.

How does NCEA work?

NCEA is achievement-based. National standards have been set in each area of learning. When a student has proven they are able to achieve these standards they earn credits towards their NCEA. When a student does achieve at the national level there are then further distinctions (within achievement standards) allowing them to achieve with merit or achieve with excellence.

In each subject a student learns, different aspects of skills, knowledge and understanding are assessed separately.

Here’s an idea of how this might occur using English as an example – different aspects of English that are assessed are

Writing –

  • formal writing
  • creative writing
  • writing a response to a text
  • writing a report as a result of research

Reading –

  • reading a variety of texts and responding to them
  • reading for meaning – exploring character, themes etc in a text
  • close reading to understand features of a specific type of text

Presenting –

  • delivering a speech
  • creating a static image – a poster, cd cover etc
  • delivering a section of a play/drama

This is just an indication of how a subject may be ‘broken-down’ for assessment purposes.

Each aspect of a subject assessed is given a title and has attributed to it a different number of credits that can be earned by the student. These aspects of a subject are called achievement standards. For the most part, an achievement standard will have three credits attributed to it but this can vary. Some are worth four credits to students and some are worth six.

Unit standards also contribute towards a student’s NCEA. Unit Standards have been registered on the NQF since 1992 and cover virtually every area of school subjects that directly feed into relevant industry. They can be thought of as the more practical of the two standards – achievement and unit standards.

The achievement standard assessments are designed to suit the skill or knowledge being assessed. This change has been one of the more important ones NCEA has brought about. In the days of school certificate for example, speech making was assessed in the end of year external exam. A student was required to answer questions about the speech they had written, the language techniques they had used and how they delivered it. Now the skill of speech delivery is assessed internally meaning the students actual performance is assessed rather than how well they write about it.

At least half of the subjects assessments are assessed at the end of the year by external exams run by the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

At each level of NCEA there is a total amount of credits a student must gain in order to be attributed with that level. For example the total number of Level One credits a student must gain to be awarded Level One is 80. These credits will be gained over a range of subject areas.

When a student completes their secondary schooling, he or she will be issued with a record of learning. This document states outlines the achievement and unit standards a student achieves, how many credits they are worth and when they were achieved. (See more about record of learning certificates under the heading ‘How does NCEA recognize excellence?’)

So how do Achievement and Unit Standards differ?

Achievement and Unit standards are similar in that they both provide criteria for assessing student performance. Both achievement and unit standards outline for teachers and students the performance criteria that need to be fulfilled in order for the student to gain the credits attributed to the standard.

There two obvious ways in which the two do differ –

  1. Each Achievement standard has written with it a broad explanation of how the student is to be assessed – whether by internal or external assessment. Unit standards are all internally assessed.
  2. Each achievement standard describes the standard required to achieve whatever credits are available, as does a unit standard, and then two further standards for the award of merit and excellence grades. Achievement of a unit standard is only achieved or not achieved.

How does NCEA recognise excellence?

Achievement standards allow students to achieve at different levels. They set out performance criteria that indicate to students how they can achieve that standard with merit or excellence.

The excellence criteria in each standard are demanding and students who do achieve with excellence are doing very well.

There are other ways for students to excel where NCEA is concerned. Many schools run an accelerated program of one sort or another that allows students to attempt achievement standards before the rest of their peer group will. For example and accelerated class of Year Ten students may have planned into their years work certain achievement standards they can achieve. The flow on effect of this is that they would then be able to attempt the next level the following year and so on.

One other way excellence is recognized is on a student’s record of learning. This is a certificate a student receives which outlines the achievement and unit standards he or she has achieved, how many credits they are worth and when they were achieved. It is on this document that it a student who achieves with merit or excellence will see recognition of this. An ‘M’ for merit of ‘E’ for excellence will appear next to the credit allocation for that particular standard.

How does my child gain University Entrance?

NZQA has completed its review of the University Entrance (UE) requirement. From 2014 there will be a new university entrance (UE) requirement for entry in 2015.

The new UE requirement will continue to be the minimum requirement for entry to university.

To achieve the new UE requirement, the following must be met:

New UE requirements from 2014 Current UE requirements
Achievement of NCEA Level 3(60 credits at level 3 or higher and 20 credits at level 2 or higher) 42 credits at Level 3 or higher
14 credits in each of three subjects from the list of approved subjects. 14 credits in each of two subjects from the list of approved subjects
The remaining credits to achieve NCEA Level 3 may come from either achievement or unit standards. 14 credits from not more than two additional domains or approved subjects
UE numeracy – 10 credits at level 1 or higher from specified achievement standards or three specific numeracy unit standards UE numeracy – 14 credits at level 1 or higher from Mathematics, Statistics and Probability, and Pāngarau
UE literacy – 10 credits (five in reading and five in writing) from
  • specific level 2 and higher achievement standards, or specific Te Reo Māori and Te Reo Rangatira level 2 standards, or
  • two specific level 4 English for academic purposes unit standards, or
  • an academic literacy common assessment tool (CAT) at level 3 (no credit value, run by NZQA).
UE literacy – 8 credits (four reading and four writing from a specific list of standards) at level 2 or higher from English or Te Reo Māori

 List of approved subjects

The list of approved subjects will consist of subjects derived from theNew Zealand Curriculum with achievement standards at Level 3. The list of approved subjects will be updated as subjects meet the criteria.  For example, Business Studies will be added to the list in 2012 when it has achievement standards available for use at Level 3.  The changed lists of approved subjects for each year will be added to the NZQA website.

What International qualifications is NCEA comparable to?

NCEA Level 1 is comparable overall to the following qualifications:

  • the British General Certificate of Secondary Education;
  • Canadian or United States Grade 10; and
  • Year 10 awards in a number of Australian states – School Certificate, Junior Certificate and Achievement Certificate.

NCEA Level 3, and the New Zealand Scholarship qualification, is comparable overall to the following qualifications:

  • the British A level; and
  • Year 12 awards in a number of Australian States, for example the New South Wales Higher School Certificate.

Find out more

You can find out more on the New Zealand Qualifications Authority website

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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