Making NCEA more accessible

Issue: Volume 101, Number 6

Posted: 13 May 2022
Reference #: 1HAUC0

Changes being made to NCEA include a commitment to make the qualification more accessible.


The NCEA Change Programme, well underway, is helping identify barriers to equitable access and participation that are currently hidden in the design or content of achievement standards. The goal is to remove the barriers while ensuring the standards retain their rigour and validity – for example, rethinking the design of external NCEA assessments to incorporate more forms of assessment beyond traditional time-bound exams.

Students will be able to demonstrate their understanding through a wider selection of modes of expression, such as speaking and presenting, and the flexibility and support of Special Assessment Conditions will be maintained.

Karen Gilby is the SENCo at Tauranga Girls’ College and sat on the NCEA Change Programme Disability and Learning Support panel.

Karen is a strong advocate of NCEA and is looking forward to seeing it become more accessible through the change programme.

“I think NCEA is a world-leading qualification. As it stands at the moment, you can work with students to pathway into industry and specialise in skills and subjects according to a student's strengths and passions. 

“You can work across subjects, so for example, you might support a student who's picking up basic numeracy skills in applied maths to complement this with technology and the Future Pathways course that we link in with.”

The Disability and Learning Support panel is made up of people with lived experience of disability and practitioners working in schools.

“We’ve had some really robust conversations. Initially these were around sharing the issues we’d come across. Some of these were really fundamental practical day-to-day issues around access.”

Karen shares some of the panel’s kōrero around how accessible NCEA is for blind students, as an example of their early discussions.

“When we started talking about using digital technology, we had to consider how that works for a blind person. Does it have voice-to-text function? Do they have access to the Word document because the PDF isn’t compatible?

“I was able to share the experience of a boy in my previous school who was blind and wanted to do materials technology. I was able to talk about the journey that we had in navigating the qualification with a classroom teacher trying to work out what to do with a student who can't see and wants to use a saw.

“We also had very robust conversation around Asian languages. If you're blind or visually impaired, how do you do Chinese, for example, because it's a visual language? So they might not do the actual calligraphy, the artistic penmanship, but we've got software technology that will allow you to use a keyboard. Is calligraphy marked on its form? Or are we marking content and meaning?”

Karen says assessment criteria is an important consideration across all subjects.

“We don't want to compromise the integrity of the qualification. So how do you test that in terms of the quality of the standard?

“I had a student who couldn’t orally present a speech for English but could produce a PowerPoint and support it with brief statements using ‘eye gaze’ technology. So we have to think about, what are we assessing here? Intonation and expression? Or the ability to convey ideas?”

Karen says a lot of thought has gone into how to assist teachers with implementation.

 “When you get NCEA standards produced by NZQA, there's explanatory notes. In the explanatory notes, we are trying to be very explicit around the need to access digital technology, accessing software, being very clear about not limiting time.”

Exemplars are important. “We've talked quite a bit around trying to provide the stories that need to be shared. The immediate human nature response is that a 100 percent blind person can't do materials technology. But actually, that student did just fine with the right support and with the right safety protocols.”

Karen is a strong advocate for access to digital technology in NCEA.

“If I can leave school, and work as an adult and use a computer, why am I not automatically going to be entitled to use it in an exam?”

More examples of making NCEA more accessible:

Teaching approaches – Down syndrome(external link) 

BYOD supporting inclusion(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:35 AM, 13 May 2022

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