NCEA stands for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement. It is New Zealand’s national secondary school qualification. It was introduced in 2002 and replaced School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate, and Bursary. It allows students to study for three levels of certificate – usually in Year Eleven – Thirteen.

NCEA was designed to recognise a broad range of achievement and record that achievement in a way that is more informative to learners, parents and employers. It provides a comprehensive record of what students achieve while they are at school and a launching pad for ongoing learning.

Standards Based Assessment

NCEA is a standards-based qualification. This means that standards of performance have been established for all work done by students that needs to be assessed or tested. Generally, a traditional school subject (English for example) is divided into 5 to 7 standards, representing particular topics, skills or pieces of knowledge. These standards were developed after extensive consultation with teachers, and are linked to areas of learning identified in the New Zealand Curriculum.

Internal and External Assessment

Students may be tested in several ways: they may sit an examination that covers a set of standards, they may be assessed internally in a series of tests covering individual standards, or, they may be tested using a combination of these approaches. This means that students, parents, and employers know what parts of a subject have been passed – and students don’t just get a single mark for an entire subject.

Achievement Standards and Unit Standards

There are two types of standards – unit standards and achievement standards. Unit standards are internally assessed and students either reach the required standard of performance and achieve the standard, attaining an achieved grade in their results, or they do not achieve the required standard and receive not achieved.

Achievement standards are either internally assessed by teachers at schools or externally assessed at the end of year in national exams. In most subjects students will be tested using both these methods. For achievement standards, students will get a not achieved grade if they do not meet the standard, but if they pass they can get achieved (for a satisfactory performance), merit (for very good performance) or excellence (for outstanding performance), depending on how well they answer. Standards are worth a set number of credits – generally between 2 and 5 credits. The level of achievement of the standard does not change the number of credits for that particular standard. From 2008 students have been able to gain merit or excellence in a particular subject.

NCEA Certificates

To gain NCEA certificates, students must reach a set total number of credits at each level, made up from achievement or unit standards or a mix of both. This is similar to the way university degrees are awarded. The NCEA can be awarded at levels 1, 2 or 3. To gain an NCEA level 1 certificate students must earn at least 80 credits. For levels 2 and 3 certificates, 60 credits at the relevant level are required plus 20 other credits from any other level. Students can gain NCEA certificates with merit or excellence according to the number of these grades they attain overall. School leavers are able to build on their NCEA at polytechnics, universities, wananga, colleges of education and accredited private training institutions. NCEA is used for university entrance selection and for entry to limited entry course at the tertiary level.

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