Rethinking assessment for Year 11 students

Issue: Volume 101, Number 8

Posted: 30 June 2022
Reference #: 1HAUoz

Authentic learning contexts with agile ways of assessing, fit for a blended learning environment. That was the goal for Epsom Girls’ Grammar School when considering the impact of ‘over-assessment’ on learning time and students’ wellbeing. Two years later, a new model is proving successful.

Results for students have been consistent with previous years.

Results for students have been consistent with previous years.

In 2020, Epsom Girls’ Grammar School (EGGS) embarked on a new Year 11 programme aimed at reducing the number of NCEA assessments, time lost to administration of them, and easing anxiety and stress for students. Although the first two years of the pilot programme have been hampered by Covid-19 restrictions, the school is pleased with the results as the first cohort of students undertake NCEA Level 3.

When asked about the reasoning behind the programme, principal Lorraine Pound says it was threefold.

“We had observed that three years of constant assessment can really mean over-assessment for ākonga in Years 11 to 13. We were looking to see if there was a way of easing up on that. Plenty of countries have a two-year exit qualification, not a three-year exit qualification, so we were interested in that idea. Also, we’re all very aware that you lose a lot of time administering NCEA assessments, and that time is lost from learning. As well as that, constant assessment can lead to anxiety and stress.

“Looking at all of those things, we were very curious as to how ākonga can have deep foundational learning in Years 9, 10 and 11 and then be really well-equipped to cope with two years of a full certificate exit qualification.”

Lorraine adds that with the combination of internal and external assessment, the three senior years of secondary school in New Zealand are finely timed. As such, assessment needs can be the ‘tail wagging the dog’, determining the shape of the year in each subject.

The phrase ‘we have to rush to get through the curriculum’ is often heard from New Zealand secondary teachers, she says.

Blue skies thinking

In 2014, under the leadership of deputy principal Tric Milner, the school’s learning area directors, heads of department and teachers in charge began a process of blue skies thinking around what they would like learning to look like.

This led to the formation of the Junior Curriculum Group led by deputy principal Karyn Dempsey. The group, informed by local and global trends in education and the changing skill set required for future employment, worked to design a new paradigm for learning at EGGS.

The aim was to enable authentic learning contexts with agile assessment modes, fit for a blended learning environment – a direction that became even more relevant with the onset of Covid-19 disruptions.

“Our kura has taken the NCEA framework and made it work in our context. It is vital that schools understand the needs of their ākonga and design a learning environment that works for them. For us, that means seeing assessment as a learning tool while ensuring our students gain qualifications that provide access to fulfilling pathways,” says Karyn.

Professional development included visiting experts such as Rose Hipkins (New Zealand Council for Educational Research), Elizabeth Rata (University of Auckland), Anton Blank (researcher and child advocate) and Johnson Mckay (Ira Aotearoa).

Out of this process came the idea of a three-year programme for Years 9–11, providing time for a strong foundation of learning before undertaking certificate level qualifications.

More time for learning

Students were able to get further ahead with their art practice.

Students were able to get further ahead with their art practice.

The school calculated that Year 11 students would gain at least 10 extra weeks of learning time. This considered how much time in classrooms is devoted to NCEA assessment instructions, preparation work and the assessment itself, as well as time needed for school practice examinations across the curriculum at Year 11.

“There were important considerations such as the ability for students to bring 20 credits up towards the next level – we obviously wanted Year 11 ākonga to still have this advantage. We also wanted them to attain the Level 1 Numeracy requirement, which is also the University Entrance Numeracy requirement. We knew that this was important to our parent community and to us, as was ākonga gaining experience in the NCEA system, before starting NCEA Level 2,” says Lorraine.

What does the Year 11 programme look like?

Students study English, Maths, Science, core Physical Education and Health, and three electives.

A programme of assessment runs throughout the year, and in most subjects one of those assessments is an NCEA Level 1 Achievement Standard.

In Maths, students undertake a full numeracy programme of Achievement Standards.

Semester courses in Science, which have been running for approximately 20 years, mean no Achievement Standards are undertaken in the four sciences.

Students undertake approximately 30 credits and can take 20 up to contribute to NCEA Level 2 in the following year under the current system. This will change under the new system.

In Year 12, students who gain the NCEA Level 2 qualification automatically gain Level 1 as well.

Positive results

In 2022, the school was able to examine how well the first cohort had done with their NCEA Level 2 results at the end of Year 12.

They found that 92.3 percent of Year 12 students gained their NCEA Level 2 (and at the same time Level 1), which was consistent with years prior to the change. 70.6 percent of those received Excellence and Merit combined endorsements, which was slightly up on the previous two years.

For those students who did not achieve Level 2, a high proportion gained it in the first few months of their Year 13.

The sciences learning area opted for no NCEA assessments at Year 11, and data from 2021 showed student achievements in science subjects were as strong as they were before the change.

Jo Rainey, acting learning director in 2021, reflects on the learning experience, saying their students spent more time in class developing solid practical skills.

“For example, using prior knowledge to identify unknown solutions, using a flowchart or a method developed by the student, critical thinking and fun problem-solving opportunities. Students have the time to think critically and contextually and challenge common misconceptions. Assessment continues but in new ways and in more authentic, contextual ways.”

Jo adds that students see the relevance of their learning, and how science affects their lives and that of their whānau too.

There were also some surprises as to other benefits that appeared across the subjects.

Lorraine Pound, with deputy principals Karyn Dempsey and Tric Milner.

Lorraine Pound, with deputy principals Karyn Dempsey and Tric Milner.

Historically, Year 11 students who take Visual Arts would be submitting an externally verified portfolio of work near the end of term 3. The art department decided they would still teach the fundamental elements of the course but enjoy the benefits of having students working up until week 5 or 6 of term 4. With the extra time gained students worked on extending their ideas, deepening their practical knowledge and producing a ‘one off’ individual piece of work for exhibition in term 4.  

“Those students were able to carry on, and classically, students are really hitting their stride in their art practice towards the end of term 3. The teachers, when they looked at the end results after those extra weeks, felt that the students were further ahead in their art practice in readiness for Level 2,” says Lorraine.

Lorraine adds that the school was confident that more learning time would advantage ākonga and is delighted that even with the challenges of Covid-19, there has been no adverse effect on achievement.

Re-adjusting to NCEA changes

Looking to the future, Lorraine acknowledges that the Year 11 plan may need some revising in light of the changes to the NCEA framework.

“As more details emerge about the changes to NCEA, we know that obviously our model was a creature of its time. The 20 credits being able to be taken up to another level was an important part of our decision making. Looking now at what will be happening in 2024, we’re planning ahead for the NCEA Change Programme.”

 Teachers have enjoyed having extra learning time.

Teachers have enjoyed having extra learning time.

This will include ensuring students are prepared for the new Literacy and Numeracy requirements. These are being moved down to Years 9 and 10, so will need to be integrated into the learning programme for those years. The school is participating in the numeracy pilot this year.

The school is working on what the Year 11 programme will look like from 2024 and it is unlikely that they would return to a full Level 1 Certificate.

“We need to keep in mind the practicalities of the new package, but we also want to keep in mind our original reasoning,” says Lorraine.

“This includes more time for deep foundational learning, avoiding constant assessment and having it dominating and determining the shape of the year, and reducing anxiety.”  

Year 11 data in 2020 and 2021 




Percentage of standards attempted and gained by the cohort.





Combined Merit and Excellence achievement rate





Percentage of students gaining Numeracy



Percentage of students who gained at least 20 credits to take up



The student experience

  • Students from EGGS share their views on the Year 11 programme and how it has impacted their learning, and their wellbeing.
  • I feel motivated to do well. I’m taking four sciences and don’t mind that there aren’t NCEA assessments. I’m still pushing myself.
  • In English, we have so much more time. Usually, we are rushed or have to do so much at home.
  • I love unlocking new skills in Maths – testing myself and that feeling of when it clicks.
  • In Chemistry, it isn’t all just equations or theory – we apply the knowledge.
  • In Art I enjoyed the process of planning, visualising and producing something unique. I enjoyed the freedom. We are well-prepared for next year because we have had so much more time and are still learning. We didn’t have to submit everything last term and just stop working. 

Further information about the NCEA Change Programme can be found at link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:04 AM, 30 June 2022

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